Archive for September, 2009

One Tough, Little SOB

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

Ahmad Bradshaw has been the best running back on the Giants through three games . Last season, Bradshaw was the biggest disappointment for me, but it hardly could be called his fault. In the 2007 season, Bradshaw showed flashes of what he could do, making one of the biggest plays of the year with that long gallop in Buffalo. Then in the playoffs that year, he was the leading rusher for the Super Bowl champs. Bradshaw had that look of a budding star. But Derrick Ward returned from injury and put together a career year in 2008, rushing for over 1,000 yard in tandem with Brandon Jacobs. There weren’t simply enough touches to include Bradshaw in a three back rotation.

When Ward left, most pundits declared it a huge loss for the Giants. But there are some things to consider. Yes, Derrick Ward is a really good back. But could we expect him to repeat those career year numbers that he had in 2008? We see this all the time, especially in baseball, a good player exceeding his normal output. Now I’m no sabermetrics expert by any means, or even subscribe to that stuff, but the point is Ward probably would have still been a good player, but not that good. So it’s not outrageous to predict Bradshaw meeting Ward’s probable output had he stayed with the Giants. And Bradshaw clearly give the Giants more explosiveness. That’s just my take.

Anyway, Bradshaw looked like a runaway fire hydrant on Sunday. Low to the ground and very physical. It seems he always is falling forward after being tackled. Bradshaw might not yet be the receiver Ward was, but I think he has more ability after the catch. Pass blocking, always an issue with young backs, appears to be an area Bradshaw is improving in as well.

The play calling was very good on Sunday, balancing the run with the pass. Defensively, the Bucs didn’t get a first down until the five minute mark of the third quarter. Enough said. With Kansas City and Oakland on the horizon, the team needs to stay focused until the real season starts.

Super Mario

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

You couldn’t have asked for more in this one. National TV, opening of a brand new stadium, and clutch plays throughout. The Giants had the last laugh when Manning took the Giants down the field in the final three minutes and Lawrence Tynes (twice!) made the big house go silent in a 33-31 thriller.

Mario Mannigham, pressed into starting duty with an injury to Dominik Hixon, played splendidly. Ten catches, including three huge ones. First, his circus catch in the endzone at the end of the half was his second score in as many games. The second catch, after a Cowboy turnover, covered 49 yards on a post and setup another go-ahead touchdown to Steve Smith, which again gave the team the lead. His third was a third-and-six grab on a tipped ball in the final minute of play which picked up a key first down and put the team in FG range. Steve Smith also had 10 catches, and suddenly everyone is feeling good about the wide receivers. Smith’s touchdown was a beautiful double-move, and credit here also has to go to the offensive line because Dallas is the one team that consistently has applied pressure on Eli Manning. Zero sacks on Sunday night, and that move by Smith doesn’t remotely work if the O-line doesn’t give the QB time.

Now enough slobbering over the Giants, as everything wasn’t fine and dandy. Of particular concern was the horrid run defense with Dallas seemingly running at will. On two separate drives, they took chunks of yardage as big as the state of Texas on their way to uncontested scores. That has to be cleaned up big time, and everything I read seemed to point to over-pursuit and a lack of discipline which are easily correctable. Having Canty out for the entire game and Tuck for the second half did not help, but it’s not an excuse either. It’s a good thing the defense was opportunistic forcing three turnovers, including one for a touchdown, because that really was the difference in the game. You don’t give up 250-plus yards of rushing and win games in the NFL. The other area to ponder is the red zone offense. Realizing they are a work in progress with the new receivers, I’m being patient. Last year, the Giants got into the redzone more than any other NFL team and I expect them to be up there again this season. But if this team really wants to be elite, they need to convert at a higher percentage when they get down there. Of particular frustration is the team’s tendency to throw short of the endzone on third down. One thing I really liked about the Bill Parcells/Ron Erhardt offense under Phil Simms was that ball was going into the endzone, hell or high water.

Crowd Electric In Opener

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Opening a season with not only a win, but a divisional win, is as good as it gets. There was a lot to be impressed with in the 23-17 victory which was a lot closer than it should have been, or even appeared to be.

First and foremost, the crowd was just awesome. This was my fifth opening day at Giants Stadium (coincidently the third involving the ‘Skins) and, man, was it loud. Not sure if the lower level holds the noise more, but my ears were ringing! For the record, I’m 3-2 in season openers.

Onto the game. Considering the Redskins had one of the better defenses in the league last season, and they will be up there again this year, I was very happy with the play of the wide receivers. Steve Smith played a really nice game, and his 26-yard catch in coverage in the fourth quarter to extend a drive was a thing of beauty. He was tagged the eventual replacement to Toomer and you can see the camaraderie between quarterback and receiver, much like Eli had with Amani. Mario Manningham was touted as big play WR in college and his first pro touchdown, a 30-yard catch and run, was the kind of plays they want from this second year wideout. Hakeem Nicks caught only two balls, but had a few more thrown is way (including a long one) and was getting valuable snaps and experience. In fact, I thought it was interesting that both Manningham and Nicks started the third quarter with the team backed up inside the 20, showing me this coaching staff has confidence in the younglings.

The running game was just okay, with short yardage conversions putting a damper on the final grade. But remember, Washington’s defense is no slouch by any means. The addition of Albert Hanesworth returned immediate results, and sometimes you have to tip your cap to the other team. Ahmad Bradshaw, not Brandon Jacobs, was the most impressive runner on this day.

Defensively, it’s tough to be critical. The Skins scored two touchdowns: one on a fake FG and the other at garbage time (which I’ll have something to say about in a bit). And when you consider that both Aaron Ross and Kevin Dockery were out of the lineup, the secondary acquitted itself quite nicely. I expect the pass rush to get even better as everyone gets their legs under them in game situations.

If there was any area worthy of critique, it was again clock management at the end of the game. Case in point: the Giants just got a 27 yard pass from a scrambling Manning to Kevin Boss, which put the ball on the Redskins’ 13 yard line with just over five minutes left in the game. With a 10 point lead and Washington having just a single timeout left, the goal here should be obvious. Run the ball, work the clock (or force them to use that final TO), and kick a FG. That puts you up 13 with about two minutes left, or a bit more than that if they used their timeout. Instead, and I know how Coughlin thinks, he goes for the kill with a play action pass. The result was a sack, subsequent holding call, and stoppage of the clock. In that situation, I just feel putting the ball in the air is an unnecessary risk. What if a pass was tipped and picked off? What if on the sack, Manning fumbled? The Giants eventually kicked a FG, but gave the ball back to the Skins with three minutes left and still holding their timeout because the Giants elected to throw every time in that series of downs. Two of those throws (sack, incompletion) resulted in clock stoppages. I’m all for being aggressive in the passing game, but there is a time to rein it in.

Finally, the two minutes defense by the Giants was terrible. They allowed the Skins to go down the field and score way too easily. The final two completions, including the touchdown to Cooley were uncontested. Why the Giants allowed Antonio Pierce to cover Randel El in the slot was ridiculous, and Jason Campbell immediately recognized it and hit him with the biggest play on the drive for 16 yards, setting up the score to Cooley.

My overall point: that game didn’t need to come down to the Giants needing to recover an onside kick with 1:30 left on the clock. If they would have run the ball, maybe the Redskins score, but there would have been virtually no time left for anything else.

Let’s Get Ready To Get Ready…

Friday, September 4th, 2009

Over the last two weeks, I think Giant fans everywhere feel a little better about the wide receiver position. It may have started for me with a flat out drop by Steve Smith versus the Jets. Smith would have had a 90 yard touchdown reception from Eli Manning, but for the fact he forgot to catch the ball. Still, what it showed me is this group of wideouts can get deep. Catching the ball is the least of my worries. Getting open is the key. And that trend continued throughout the Jets game, with the Giants offense taking multiple shots down the field (how many times did they throw deep to Manningham anyway?). And yes there were some overthrows to open guys, and some drops too. It happens. But do understand this Giants will be reintroducing the long ball back into the offense. In the finale versus the Pats, check out how many long passes were caught. Seven different receivers caught balls of at least 23 yards. Very impressive.

So who makes the squad at WR, and how many do we keep? I say the max is certainly six, and here’s how I see it:

Smith and Hixon are the starters. Manningham and Nicks will get plenty of time as the three and four, probably in a rotation. Ramses Barden makes the squad obviously as well, but his time will most likely be limited this season. So that leaves one more spot, and we know it comes down to Tyree, Moss, or Hagan. My choice right now is Hagan. Tyree appears to be still limited by his injury, and if he can’t play great specials he can’t be on this roster. Moss finally made an appearance versus the Pats, and there’s been speculation that his increased playing time in that game was to showcase him for a potential trade. If the Giants can get anything for him, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Moss is a free agent next year and with the young stock of WR’s on the team, he won’t be resigned anyway. And as Manningham and Nicks progress this year Moss would again drop on the depth chart as he has his entire Giant career. Hagan has enough experience in the league to step in early on if necessary if either Mario or Hakeem have some growing pains. And remember, with the TE’s and backs also being involved in this offense (hopefully, fingers crossed) the wide receivers won’t be burdened with carrying the team.