Monday, October 20, 2008

Under the Lens: 49ers @ Giants, Week 7

The New York Giants got back in the win column Sunday, defeating the visiting 49ers 29-17. The win at Giants Stadium improves the team's record to 4-0 at home, 1 win better than they were all of last season. The win also takes the G-men to 5-1 on the season, their best start through six games since 1993.

Brandon Jacobs and Chris Snee celebrate one of Jacobs's two TD's on the day. (AP Photo)

At 5-1, the Giants are certainly in good shape, but despite being off to one of their best starts in recent history, Big Blue still has a ways to go before they're playing their best football. Sunday's outing was enough to remind fans that the Giants from the previous week were an anomaly - indeed there were some major positives to be taken from Sunday's game - but the sloppy showing against a struggling San Francisco team also revealed a few cracks in the Giants' big blue armor...


After posting 0 turnovers, 0 sacks, and 0 punts against the Browns, the Giant defense had much to prove coming off one of their worst performances in recent memory, and against the Niners, they rebounded in a big way. In many respects, it was back to business as usual for the Big Blue D. They shut down RB Frank Gore and beat up on QB J.T. O'Sullivan all afternoon. They also did some uncommon things, generating multiple turnovers for the first time all season and putting points on the board for just the second time this year with a safety in the fourth quarter.

Many positives from the defense's performance Sunday, but still plenty to clean up...
  • PRO - Run Defense. The Giants held the Niners to just 35 yards on the ground and limited San Fran's stellar running back to only 11 yards on 11 carries. J.T. O'Sullivan even out-rushed Gore, mostly while running in terror from the Giant defensive linemen. San Francisco averaged a measly 2.2 yards per carry running the ball and converted only one first down on the ground. Another impressive statistic is that the Giants recorded 12 tackles for a loss against the Niners. Outstanding job all around on the defensive line.
  • PRO - QB Pressure. J.T. O'Sullivan was not comfortable all day, thanks to some tremendous pressure from Big Blue's D. They sacked the hapless QB 6 times and forced 3 fumbles. The Niners fumbled a fourth time on an exchange between O'Sullivan and Gore. O'Sullivan's final fumble was kicked out of the back of the end zone by a Niners' receiver for a safety. DE Justin Tuck led the way with two sacks and two forced fumbles. Fred Robbins, Barry Cofield, Dave Tollefson, and Chase Blackburn added a sack apiece.
  • PRO - Turnovers. Last week -3, this +3, and oh what a difference it makes when you win the turnover battle. S Michael Johnson picked off two O'Sullivan passes, including one tremendous grab in the end zone right before the half. DE Matthias Kiwanuka recovered a 49er fumble to pick up the third takeaway of the game.
  • PRO - Points! The Giant defense translated their pressure and takeaways into points for just the second time all season, forcing a safety in the fourth quarter. If the 49er receiver had not kicked the ball out of the back of the end zone, the play might very well have resulted in a defensive touchdown for the G-men. Big play-making possibilities...
  • PRO - Chase Blackburn. Filling in for an injured Antonio Pierce, the fourth year linebacker had a career day, picking up 10 tackles, including his first career sack, and a forced fumble. Perhaps more impressive than his statistical performance though, Chase also did an excellent job directing traffic on the defensive side of the ball. Big Blue really didn't miss a beat with their field general watching from the sidelines.
Chase Blackburn (#57) and Michael Johnson (#20) both had big days for Big Blue. (AP Photo)
  • CON - Pass Coverage. The major area in which I felt the Giants struggled was pass coverage. Big Blue allowed 256 yards through the air, as San Francisco averaged over 6 yards per pass play. They converted 12 of their 13 first downs via the pass, and connected on four plays of over 20 yards, the most memorable being the 30 yard touchdown pass to Josh Morgan. Now granted, the big play is one area in which the 49ers excel - they're among the top teams in the league in converting plays of 20 yards or more - but the Giants cannot afford to let this sort of pass coverage continue. Things could have been a lot worse if they were playing a better team with a better QB. O'Sullivan missed his receivers on a number of occasions when they were wide open. Big Blue will have to tighten up.
PROJECTION - More or less the same. I think this is what the Giants' defense is going to give us from here on out. Obviously, the pass rush is their bread and butter, and this week they were finally able to convert that pressure into turnovers and points. The linebackers still have not shown much in pass coverage though they do have athleticism at the position to do it. The secondary, while starting off the season with four outstanding games, has been rather quiet since. Webster and Ross will need to step it back up again and see if their unit can produce more big plays.

Two X factors I think will be S Kenny Phillips and CB Sam Madison. Phillips has not shown much yet, but he's only played six games as a pro. Most of the Giants' outstanding rookie class last year did not make any significant contributions until the second half of the season. He's shown flashes, but let's hope KP will soon start to deliver on some of the hype.

Madison meanwhile has not seen much action yet this season. Given the struggles of the secondary in recent weeks though, I think he could still make meaningful on-field contributions. He has a savvy and an eye for the ball that the younger players are still developing. He's not the speedster he once was, but he could play a critical role in getting offenses of the field in 3rd down situations, as he showed with his play in Week 3 against the Bengals.


The Giant defense definitely picked up some slack Sunday from a mediocre offensive performance. Eli Manning protected the football this week, but as his completion percentage (16/31) suggests, the passing attack was not at its best. The Giants gained 161 yards through the air, which I believe is their lowest total all season. 7 different players caught passes, led by Derrick Ward, who had 3 grabs for 50 yards.

The Giants' running attack also struggled. Big Blue ran the ball over 32 times but only amassed 112 yards on the ground, averaging 3.5 yards a carry: both numbers well below season averages. Conspicuous by its absence were the crushing stampedes down field that embody the Giants' superior off-tackle runs. I'm not sure if the Niners shut that down or if the Giants just didn't call them as much...Brandon Jacobs' 26 yard touchdown run came off-tackle, I believe.

Regardless, there were a number of positives to look at as well. Brandon Jacobs ran for two scores, including the afore-mentioned 26 yard dash, and Plaxico Burress caught his third touchdown of the season with a great grab in the back of the end zone. Let's break it all down...
  • PRO - Pass Protection. The offensive line did a tremendous job of giving Eli time to throw the ball, regardless of whether or not anyone caught the passes. Eli was not sacked once the entire game, and was hit only once.
  • PRO - Earth, Wind and...Sparky? It was nice to see Bradshaw getting more carries this week, and getting them early. "Fire" provided a spark to the Giants' attack but didn't exactly burn the Niners on Sunday as he fumbled the ball twice. The first was over-turned as Bradshaw had a shin down when the ball came loose, and the Giants recovered the second. Both should be corrected as they were simply a matter of Bradshaw protecting the ball better when being tackled.
  • PRO - Going for it on 4th Down. A nice momentum-builder early in the game on 4th-and-1, and especially cool to see Bradshaw get the call.
Second-year RB Ahmad Bradshaw saw action early and often on Sunday. (AP Photo)
  • CON - The Plaxico Burress Effect. If only the coaching staff could be as creative with the passing game. You'll notice, despite what some might say, "Plaxico Burress" himself is not a CON, but rather the adverse affect he can have on the Giants' offensive game plan. The Giants have a lot of weapons who can catch the ball, and it seems to me that whenever the passing attack struggles it's because Burress gets a lot of balls thrown his way and half of them don't yield any results. Burress is a tremendous weapon, but if you always use the same sword, the blade's going to get dull. Spread the wealth...
  • CON - Penalties. As a team, the Giants committed 11 penalties, which I'm pretty sure is a season high, giving up 80 yards. 6 of those penalties came on offense, and most of them were simply stupid. Coughlin will not tolerate this sort of sloppy play and the Giants can not afford it against better competition.
PROJECTION - The run will get better and the pass has to. The G-men will be going up against some high-pressure defenses and explosive offenses in the final 10 games of the season. With a currently suspect pass defense, Big Blue's O will have to pick up its game. They've shown they have the ability to drive down field and put points on the board, but now they must do it consistently. Pass protection, establishing the run, and spreading the ball through the air will be the three keys for Eli's boys to be still standing when the dust settles.


Two surprises on "Teams" this week: 1) Lawrence Tynes once again sat out, and 2) San Fran once again blocked a field goal for a touchdown. I'm not sure what will happen with the kicking situation, but Carney has been consistent. As for the blocked FG, I don't expect to see too much more of that in the coming weeks. It goes to show you though, Special Teams can swing the momentum of a game in an instant.

Of other note, I thought the punt and kick coverage on Sunday was really outstanding. San Francisco really didn't go anywhere once they got the ball. P Jeff Feagles also had a great game, including sending one punt inside the 5 yard line. Unfortunately, it was negated by a Domenik Hixon penalty.


Lots of love to go around this week. Everyone on the D-line gets a game ball, including back-up Dave Tollefson for some outstanding play; Chase Blackburn did an awesome job; Michael Johnson for his two interceptions; Brandon Jacobs for his pair of scores; and Jeff Feagles for being older and better than everyone else who plays his position.


Business is about to pick up, as they say. Big Blue heads back out onto the road to take on the 5-1 Pittsburgh Steelers. This will be the Giants' toughest challenge yet, and how they perform should be a good indicator of how they may fare through the final 10 games. So far, the G-men have not had the best of luck against the AFC North, getting thrashed by the Browns in Week 6 and being pushed to over time by the lowly Bengals in Week 3. If the Giants play the type of football they've shown themselves to be capable of playing, they should be able to take home the win. Right now, it's all about consistency...

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