Saturday, September 6, 2008

Thoughts on Season Opener

First of all, it was great to get a win, to get a win in the division, and to win at home.

I watched the game on my computer, Friday morning, 7 am Shanghai time, using NFL Gamepass, which is like an internet NFL Sunday Ticket for expats. After surviving on net radio all of last season, I'm hoping my internet connection luck continues for a few more weeks and can continue to stream games until I get back state-side.

Back to the game...In a division as tight as the NFC East, wins against divisional opponents are essential to a team's success. Winning at home is an important area for the G-men to improve on this year after going 3-5 at Giants' Stadium last season. Judging from the atmosphere in the Meadowlands Thursday night, I think the team can build confidence and momentum at home and transition that into a successful winning record in the division this year. We'll need to go at least 4-2 against the Cowboys, Eagles, and 'Skins to have a hope of grabbing the NFC East title. I admit these projections are a little premature, but looking at their schedule, I think the Giants can put together 6 wins at home and reach the 4 division wins mark at least, this season.

The way the team won the game was also encouraging. While far from a perfect performance, I thought the Giants showed a lot of promise on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.

On O:

  • PRO: The Giants' opening drive was outstanding, charging down the field with a balanced attack, converting on 3rd downs, and most importantly, getting the ball in the end zone. As the passing game develops more chemistry and confidence, it could develop into one of the league's best, given the depth of young talent on the roster.

  • PRO: Speaking of the best, Plaxico Burress looked like a giant among boys, running around like a kid on playground, catching balls at will. After having a pro-bowl caliber season last year on a bad ankle, Plax now says he's at 100%. He's already practiced more this year than he did all of last year. If he keeps up with his opening night performance, secondaries around the league should take notice.

  • PRO: The running game. Behind what John Madden called "the best offensive line in the league" (I don't recall if he meant running the ball or overall), the Giants running attack looked strong, despite questions about the TE blocking coming in. Jacobs led the way with 116 yds on 21 carries, and Ward showed that he could carry the load when Jacobs was on the sideline. Excluding Eli's 2 rushes for -1 yards, the backfield averaged over 5 yards a carry. Bradshaw surprisingly didn't get any carries, but Coughlin told reporters on Friday that was simply an issue of poor planning.

  • CON: Field goals, field goals, field goals. After driving down the field at will early in the game, the G-men failed to convert on their "green zone" opportunities. Some would argue that the play-calling got a little too pass-happy near the goal line, and the running attack did not get enough consideration once the team entered the kill zone.

  • CON: Sloppy passing. With the exception of Burress, and a few nice catches by the supporting cast, I thought the passing game struggled in its first outing of the season. One reason for that is that it's still early. The QB and WRs will gel together in the coming weeks. Remember Burress, Toomer, and Steve Smith all missed considerable time during the preseason, and Kevin Boss and the TEs are still getting a feel for their roles in the absence of Jeremy Shockey. Also, play-calling needs to improve. Given the success of the run game and Giants' domination of the line of scrimmage, throwing 35 passes seems a little excessive. Eli was also lucky he was picked off another 2 or 3 times. The Redskins' secondary had a number of balls go right through their hands.

  • PROJECTION: Up. When TC and co. review the tapes, they will find few things that they can't remedy. In addition to the players getting a better feel for each other, the coaches will also need to get a better feel for the weapons at their disposal. When that happens, I think the WRs will being to carve out their roles within the offense, and the passing game will take off. Also, I think we can look for more of the run game inside the green zone, and a better division of touches between Jacobs, Ward, and Bradshaw in the coming weeks. It's all about chemistry, balance, and confidence on offense, and the new two weeks' opponents present good chances to build in those areas.

On D:

  • PRO: Spagnuolo's scheme is still fierce, and even without Strahan and Osi, the D can still put the heat on the opposing QB, thanks to an evolved pass-rushing scheme and a whole lot more talent on the D-line than people are acknowledging. Tuck's sack on the first defensive play of the game set the tone early, and I would like to think it bodes well for the Giants' defense this season.

  • PRO: Great tackling. The Giants defenders consistently put themselves between the 'Skins and the first down marker, and more importantly, consistently made stops. I think we opened with three or four straight three-and-outs.

  • PRO: Pass coverage. Big Blue's young secondary made some phenomenal plays in coverage. Anybody see Ross go step for step with Santana Moss on that deep ball? I'm not so convinced he couldn't beat his Olympian fiancee in a race.

  • PRO: New faces making big contributions. Kiwanuka's impromptu return to DE following Osi's injury may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. The man looked really good against both the run and pass and he showed real athleticism and savvy in his play. Danny Clark, Gerris Wilkinson, and Bryan Kehl also made some nice contributions. I really like the athleticism and attitude they bring to the table and I'll be curious to see how the LB corps gels as a unit this year.

  • CON: Not too many negatives to speak on from Game 1. Any time you only give up 7 points in a game, it's a positive. There was a drop off in intensity and pressure in the second half, but I'll go with Garafolo on this one and chalk it up to the heat and a lack of stamina entering the first full game of the season.

  • CON: Lack of turnover production. This will come as the unit gels and finds its footing in the regular season.

  • PROJECTION: Up. This D could be as dominant as it was last year under a more mature scheme. I look for the D-line to continue to get penetration at the line of scrimmage, stuffing RBs and QBs alike. I also look for an athletic group of LBs and defensive backs to start producing some big plays turnover-wise. The total ineptitude of the Redskins' offense may lead some to question how "for real" the 2008 Giants D is. Holding the opposing team to single-digit first downs and double digit yardage in a half, and forcing 3-and-out after 3-and-out suggests that Tuck, AP and company are a lot more "for real-ier" than the many suggest.

Stay tuned for coverage of Week 1 in the NFL throughout the rest of the weekend. I'm going to pay special attention to the Cowboys and Eagles this weekend, as well as the Rams, the Giants' opponents next week.

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