Monday, September 15, 2008

Under the Lens: Giants @ Rams, Week 2

Week number two, win number two. The G-men rolled over the Rams 41-13 on Sunday and improved to 2-0, their best start since 2005. The Giants fought for four quarters, and made big plays on both sides of the football. What was most encouraging is that they made important improvements coming off of their first win, and in doing so in such dominant fashion, showed that they have a winning attitude and a gifted group of players that could carry them far this season.

The biggest thing I liked about this game was the score. At the final whistle, it read "41-13," but it could have been 41-6 or worse(better?). I'm still not convinced that Tory Holt caught that pass (nor am I convinced that Kenny Phillips picked it off, as he claims), and both Rams field goals were in the mid-50s range, not exactly close to the uprights. The Rams could not advance the ball past mid-field because the Giants defense shut them down big time. Let's take a look at Big Blue's D first.

D is Nuts

Big Blue's D held the Rams offense to 201 net total yards, 13 first downs (11 excluding penalties), and a 23% 3rd down conversion rate. The Rams averaged a meager 3.7 yards per play. After two weeks the Giants defense ranks second in the league in average points allowed (10.0), third in yards per game (205.0), and fifth in passing and rushing yards allowed per game (129.0 and 76.0, respectively). While the Rams offense was inept, the Giants defense showed why their dominant defense should continue to improve:
  • PRO - Pressure on the Quarterback. The 2008 Giants looked like their old selves on Sunday, sacking the opposing QB six times. DE Justin Tuck and DT Fred Robbins each had two , while MLB Antonio Pierce and second-year DT Jay Alford had one apiece. After Osi's injury I think a lot of people underestimated the D-line's ability to bring pressure, especially from the tackle position. I think we're beginning to open some eyes. Guys like Alford and Robbins could rack up a half dozen sacks each this year, as I see it. As for Osi's successor, I think Kiwanuka will get to the QB eventually. Between the ankle injury and Orlando Pace standing in his way, he had enough to contend with last weekend.
"Robbins SMASH!" - Fred Robbins

  • PRO - Generating Turnovers. With more pressure will come more opportunities to generate turnovers and make the big play on defense. Justin Tuck notched the defense's first turnover of the season in stellar fashion, picking off Marc Bulger at the line of scrimmage and returning it 41 yards for a touchdown. As I said leading up to last week's game, if the Giants defense is to make the step from excellent to elite, it will need to start generating more turnovers and points. For the first time in many years, I feel like the personnel and athleticism in the secondary and at the LB position are strong enough to make that final step.
  • PRO - Making Tackles. Of course, the staple of any good defense is strong fundamentals, and for the second week in a row, the Giants were by and large in the right places making stops. Only on a few occasions did RB Stephen Jackson get away from them, and thankfully, the Giants secondary was there to clean up any potential mess.
  • PRO - Excellent Pass Coverage. The Giants' young, talented secondary continues to look impressive early in the season. Aaron Ross and Corey Webster had statistically quiet, but nonetheless strong games. Kevin Dockery also did well, but on a few occasions he tried to anticipate the play and guessed incorrectly. Thankfully, the Rams offense couldn't make much of these mistakes, and in each instance you could see Steve Spagnuolo giving Dock the "attaboy, now don't do that again" helmet slap...You're not Sam Madison yet, young blood. Speaking of young, rookie Kenny Phillips showed me a glimpse of that speed I keep reading about. He closed the gap on the Tory Holt's "touchdown" like a bolt, really impressive. He claims the pass was also picked off...I couldn't tell much at all from the camera angle. One final note, apparently Ross injured his shoulder in the game. I saw Pierce waving frantically to the sideline at one point, but Fox didn't make any further mention of it during the broadcast so I wasn't sure what happened. On Tuesday Ross, seemed to be fine.
  • CON - Penalties. If there was one area where the defense could improve on, it would be penalties. The defense committed three penalties, two of which allowed the Rams to convert on 3rd down. This is an area the whole team needs to improve upon, and I look for Tom "I may be nice now but I'm still a disciplinarian" Coughlin to remedy this problem before Week 3's contest.
PROJECTION - Up. This defense can only get better as they gel and build chemistry going forward. I'm not too worried about the penalty situation as I think TC will clear it up. As each element gets a better feel for each other and the young guys internalize Spags's system, I expect to continue to see big things from Big Blue's D.

On an individual level, Justin Tuck is already playing like a Pro-bowler and I think other players on the D-line will start to emerge in a similarly impressive fashion. I think Bryan Kehl could evolve into a real beast at LB and I think Danny Clark is a stand-up guy, great leader, and helluva player. I also really like what I'm seeing from the secondary and expect to see them coming up with turnovers in the very near future...possibly against a talented passing attack like Cincinatti?

Now to the offense...

O, O,'s Magic

Eli Manning and the Giant offense had much to work on heading down to St. Louis. After scoring on their opening drive of the season, the Giants' offense stalled on the next three, including two more trips into the red zone, forcing them to settle for field goals. What's more, the Giants did not score a single point in the second half of Week 1.

What happened? Three reasons stood out to me: 1) lack of offensive chemistry, 2) failure to spread the ball effectively, 3) questionable play calls. While Plaxico Burress had his usual plax-tastic performance Week 1, no other Giants receiver had more than 2 catches. On a number of plays the receivers and QB appeared to be on different pages. Similarly, in the back field, Brandon Jacobs put in a beast of a game, but neither he nor Derek Ward got the ball in the red zone, and second-year stud Ahmad Bradshaw didn't even see one carry.

There was considerable room for improvement for Eli and the O going into St. Louis, and improve is what they did...

  • PRO - TOUCHDOWN! The Giants offense scored four TD's, three in the air, and one on the ground. Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer, and Ahmad Bradshaw each pulled in an Eli pass for 6 points, and Bradshaw added another 6 on a 30-plus yard dash into the end zone late in the forth quarter. I could do with a few more 40 pointers this season...
  • PRO - Balanced passing attack. More impressive to me than how many points the Giants scored was how many people contributed on offense. Eight different players caught a pass in Sunday's win. Toomer led the way with 6 catches for 67 yds; Burress had 5 catches for 81 yds, including a ridonculous move on Rams' FS O.J. Atogwe to break free for the TD; and Domenik Hixon showed that he can provide the Giants with a viable fourth wide receiver option. I think Sinorice Moss could fill this role too this year, being healthy, but it seems like they don't want to give him the chance. He or Steve Smith, or the thus-far inactive Mario Manningham, would be perfect for those Go-routes they kept trying to run with Toomer. How many times was he one-on-one with the CB and just couldn't get by him? Two or three times I felt like a speedier receiver could've smoked the opposing CB. I thought we were working on the deep threat this season...
  • PRO - Dominating the line. Of course, at the heart of this Giants offense is a beastly offensive line. The unit is tight, tough, and talented enough to take on anybody. They won't fly under the radar for much longer the way this offense is clicking... FB Madison Hedgecock and TE Kevin Boss also made a number of nice plays run-blocking, and deserve a lot of credit. Boss and his fellow TEs look to be improving a lot in the blocking department. When this naturally-gifted pass catcher gets the ball thrown his way, I expect good, good things.
  • PRO - Earth, Wind, and Fire! Behind the furious five, the Giants boast a treacherous trio in their backfield, freshly dubbed: "Earth, Wind, and Fire." Such an awesome force on the ground is worthy of such an awesome nickname. All three backs had at least 50 yards rushing; Brandon "Earth" Jacobs was just a few yards short of his second 100-yard game in as many chances, and Ahmad "Fire" Bradshaw scored two touchdowns. If we went with another blast-from-the-past theme, could we make Danny Ware "Water" and Reuben Droughns "Heart"? "By your powers combined..."

Jacobs, Ward, and Bradshaw congratulate each other on their awesome new nickname...and Bradshaw's touchdown.
  • PRO - Eli Manning is a Super Bowl MVP. Finally, Eli Manning looks like he has turned a corner since last year's playoff push. He protects the football, he makes smart decisions, he moves the offense. With a great line and running game to support him, I expect Eli and his receivers can further develop their chemistry moving forward. If that can happen, I think this Giants' offense can continually score in the mid-to-high twenties.
  • CON - Penalties. It's hard to find much wrong when your team scores 41 points, but again, as with the defense, penalties were troublesome, especially when they're unnecessary Delay of Game penalties. I think that'll be resolved by next week though...
PROJECTION - Keep it up! The Giants offense has the talent to come at opposing teams from any angle. It's a question of building chemistry and remaining consistent. If Eli continues to look Super Bowl-ian, look out NFC.

Special Teams

I didn't forget. A much better effort this week I thought on "Teams." Carney continues to inspire "Lawrence who?" questions...Hixon handled punt return duty this week with R-dubs nursing a calf injury. He definitely added some spark and had a great return towards the end of the game to set up the final touchdown. I understand TC wasn't happy with kick-off returns though. Now that Hixon is over his back injury, will he switch to KR when McQ comes back? I guess we'll wait and see...

Game Balls

Finally, this week's game balls:
Eli, Plax, Amani, E.W.F., the O-line, Kenny Phillips for being terrifyingly fast, Justin Tuck for being a beast, and Freddy Robbins.

Up Next: the Cincinnati Bengals

Week 2 was a good momentum builder for Big Blue. They came out, spread the ball, and attacked the Rams weaknesses on offense through four quarters. On defense, they got to the quarterback, tackled well, and made the big play. Week 3's match-up present a challenge and an opportunity for the G-men to continue to build chemistry and momentum in all phases of the game.

Later in the week, we'll look preview Sunday's game and talk about the key match-ups and challenges for the Giants as they look to go 3-0.

Stay tuned!

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