Monday, August 24, 2009

The Sky Isn't Falling...Yet

Saturday night’s thrashing at the hands of the Chicago Bears was painful to watch, to say the least. The Giants were dominated in all aspects of the game and looked out-matched, out-hustled and on many plays, out of place. Both sides of the ball put on an embarrassing display, which frustrated the coach and fans alike.

Tom Coughlin will have a lot to say to his players following Saturday's display.

Some were quick to proclaim the apocalypse is nigh and were polishing their pitchforks to storm Jerry Reese’s castle; others casually dismissed the loss with an “It’s just the preseason…” and another beer to numb the pain. My take: put the pitchforks away before somebody pulls a Leeroy Jenkins, and hold off on that next Duff Dry, Homer. You need to keep things in perspective…

Preseason or Not

First, it IS only the preseason, so the score doesn’t matter. (Thank God.) But even in the preseason, the results matter, meaning the product teams put on the field. Saturday, I don’t think anyone would buy what the Giants were selling.

“Well, we were missing a ton of starters. That’s not what we’ll look like come Week 1. No big deal,” some would claim.

Well, we were missing the same amount of guys in Week 1 and we dominated the opposition. At some point you need to be able to rely on your 3rd or 4th Cornerback, or back-up Safety, or back-up Guard, to hang with the first teamers. Guys go down…we’re learning that now, unfortunately. Which players were out Week 2 may have been a factor. I think the absence of Antonio Pierce and Kenny Phillips affected the defense early on. Chicago got some momentum and the Giants couldn’t recover.

But the injury list is not getting shorter, and it might be a few weeks into the regular season before the team is at full strength, if ever. Perhaps the worst thing to come out of Saturday’s game is that third-year DT and Field Goal team snapper, Jay Alford, has a torn MCL and partially torn ACL following a collision with a teammate. He will rehab for two weeks before being reevaluated...

Anyway, back to the field. The Giants performance on Saturday was not a reflection of the talent (or lack thereof) on it, but rather a lack of intensity and fundamental execution: issues that can be fixed, qualities the Giants possess. Big Blue was owned at the line of scrimmage on either side of the ball. The Linebackers and DBs were often out of position. The O-line looked old and slow and the backs didn’t do their part in the blocking game.

You can’t gauge the passing game if the Quarterbacks have no pass protection. You can’t play good defense if the D-line is running all over the place, or getting pushed all over the place. Carl Banks repeatedly pointed out the D-line not maintaining their “lane integrity.” You could see it on multiple plays…when we failed to get to the quarterback and gave up big plays as a result.

Hang in there, Eli.

Not All Bad

But on the positive side, there were a number of plays where players were off by a split-second: Manning’s late pass to Manningham, Dockery’s blitz and attempted run stuff, Michael Johnson and Corey Webster making plays on the ball. These are timing issues that teams should be dealing with now, and problems that will hopefully be resolved this week.

There were some bigger positives to take away too (though you had to look for them). Manningham looks like he is emerging as the number 3 WR on this team. Rookies Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden both made some nice catches. All three running backs looked very solid, and Eli looked poised, again, despite a few errant throws. On the defensive side of the ball, Jonathan Goff and Gerris Wilkinson both made strong cases to be on the final 53 come September.

Freight train a-comin'! Woo wooooo!

Lesson Learned

In the end, I believe this will go down as a valuable learning experience. Chicago needed to show something after a lousy performance in Week 1. The Giants were coming off a short week and probably did not invest much mental energy in getting ready for the game. Sometimes it takes a good slap in the face to wake up and realize that no matter how talented or experienced, in the NFL you can’t just put a helmet on and expect things to go your way.

DE Justin Tuck offered his take after the game. "I think this loss right here will wake some people up...It's human nature, but it's easy for us to look at all the talent we have on this football team, especially on defense, you kind of get complacent. In a way I'm kind of glad we played like that, because I know for a fact we got a bunch of guys on the sideline that don't ever want to see that. We don't ever want to have that feeling."

The Giants will respond and be ready for the annual Week 3 preseason game against the Jets. The third preseason game is typically regarded as the practice run for the regular season. I trust the Giants will make a much better showing in the cross-town showdown. If they don't, “It’s the preseason” won’t work much longer...

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Podcast Previews Preseason Wk 2: NYG vs. CHI

The Podcast returns for another round as Will and Jake put their super-fandom of their respective teams to good use and break own the Giants-Bears match-up for Preseason Week 2.

The pair break down the profiles of each position on their teams and debate who has the edge at what spots. They then highlight what to watch for in what should be an exciting and informative game for fans of each team looking to assess where their teams are, heading into the regular season.

Click the player below or in the near sidebar to listen to the show. You can also click the link below to download it for your listening convenience.

Giants' Steps will be live on Twitter tonight following the game. The link to the Twitter page is below.

Looking forward to a fun contest. Go Giants!

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Top 5 Headlines of Giants Training Camp: Weeks 1 &2

2009 Training Camp, incredibly, is just a few more practices away from its conclusion. Just two weeks ago, I was basking in the joy of having fresh football news every day, my mind somehow convinced that the previous months of quiet had become the norm for NFL franchises year-round. Now, with the first preseason game of the year just days away, anticipation for the coming season is in hyper drive!

To transition then from camp to the preseason, I wanted to revisit some of the biggest ON-THE-FIELD stories from Giants camp 2009. The “Top 5” format has served me well as of late, helping me structure my thoughts so as not to ramble on endlessly. I will count the headlines down in just a second.

Before I do that though, there were some big stories that happened off the field that I’d like to quickly touch on in rapid fire succession:

AP exonerated in Burress case – Good. No distractions, just football. Pierce looks fit and ready to go and has that chip on his shoulder. Say what you will, but he’s the leader of this defense and we are not whole without him.

Eli’s new contract – Coming of the best season of his career, the Super Bowl MVP deserves it. Regardless of stats, he has a ring, the ultimate measuring stick. He’s one of the best clutch QBs in the league and handles the toughest media market in the NFL with poise when few others could. He’s the franchise.

RB Andre Brown Out for Season – Terrible break for the rookie. He ruptured his Achilles in the evening practice on Friday, August 14th, and will be out for the year. You hate to see anybody go down, on any team...especially this early on.

Now on to my Top 5:

5) Oh Snap!

Early on in camp, it seemed the only thing outnumbering the passes picked off by the defense (which we will get to later) was the number of botched snaps by the back-up Centers. Adam Koets, Tutan Reyes, Kevin Boothe, and perhaps others, were sailing balls over quarterbacks’ heads, or worse, with alarming regularity throughout Week 1. The frequency decreased into Week Two, but to paraphrase Coach Coughlin: “One a day is too many.” If things continue at this rate, the Giants front office will be forced to look elsewhere for a back-up to Shawn O’Hara. The offensive line’s reliable sixth man over the past few seasons, Grey Ruegamer, signed with the Seahawks on August 5th.

4) Tour de Albany

On the other side of the ball, the Giants made a big splash in the offseason to improve the quality and depth of the front seven. The full scope of what that group might look like has yet to be revealed however as a number of players have been out recovering from injuries. DE’s Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora and DT Barry Cofield have all been limited in action. LB Michael Boley is still out recovering from hip surgery, DT Rocky Bernard is on the non-football injury list, DE/DT Chris Canty was out a number of days with a hamstring injury, and DT Fred Robbins was only activated off the PUP list on, August 9.

Starting CBs Aaron Ross and Corey Webster joined their teammates late into Week 1, as did WRs Steve Smith, David Tyree, Mario Manningham and rookie Hakeem Nicks. Sinorice Moss also has been dealing with some hamstring issues. The interior offensive line has rotated on the bikes, with Rich Seurbert, Shawn O’Hara and Chris Snee all spending time on the sidelines.

This sort of wear and tear is normal for training camp, but with so many guys limited or missing practices, it’s hard to get a sense of what the Giants are really working with. Let’s hope this bike race ends quickly…

3) Young Defensive Players Stepping Up

The positive side of this coin is that it opens the door for young guys to step up and make an impression. Third year DT Jay Alford has looked good in his work with the first team. I believed from the beginning his role as snapper on the field goal unit and his pass-rushing skills would earn him a spot on the team despite a wealth of DTs this year. Glad to see he’s making a strong impression, especially if that injury list doesn’t get shorter.

Second-year LB Bryan Kehl also has been seeing significant work with the first team, and making a compelling case to be the starting WLB in Michael Boley’s absence, maybe even see regular time when Boley returns. Kehl has always been recognized as a tremendous athlete, and as I’ve said repeatedly, he flashed some impressive play-making potential when he saw the field last year. What’s exciting about his play early in camp, is that he’s now combining those athletic abilities with physicality and aggression, traits he’s often been knocked for lacking.

Second year LB Bryan Kehl makes a play in camp.

Rookie DB Stoney Woodson is also drawing the attention of the coaches for his consistently impressive play. He has made a number of impressive plays on the ball and has performed well in coverage. Mike Garafolo posted a nice story on him (click here for story) on August 12.

2) The Rise of Ramses

Of course, the real position everybody is eyeing to see which young players will step up is Wide Receiver. Ironically, the player many fans assumed would be the slowest to contribute is having the most impressive camp of the group: third round draft-pick Ramses Barden.

The former Cal Poly standout is catching everything thrown his way. His Plaxico-like frame gives him what GM Jerry Reese calls a “big strike zone” and “The Prince,” as he has dubbed himself, is using it to his advantage. He has digested the playbook and probably is the team’s most pleasant surprise on the offensive side of the ball thus far.

Unless Dwight Howard signs to play CB in the NFL, this move could be tricky for opposing defenses.

Depending on how he performs in preseason, “The Prince” could be ready to rule the red zone early on in 2009.

1) You Will Know Their Names

By far the most impressive play in training camp has been that of the secondary. LB Antonio Pierce admitted as much in an interview with Mike Francesa on August 12th. Even with starters Webster and Ross on the sidelines, the unit has shined thanks to the impressive play of second year players S Kenny Phillips and CB Terrell Thomas and other young talent. Phillips and Thomas in particular have displayed impressive athleticism and play-making ability, tracking down balls and covering the field very well.

Kenny Phillips...Pick!

The defense has approximately 25 interceptions through the first two weeks, and that’s without a live pass rush. When the starting unit takes the field intact, this defensive backfield could become a take-away machine. Big Blue’s D had 17 interceptions in the 2008 regular season.

In any event, with the addition of Kenny Phillips to the starting line-up – who by all estimates is poised for a break-out season – the development of Thomas, the revival of Ross (click here for article), and the under-the-radar but ELITE play of Corey Webster, this young unit could be outstanding in 2009. I believe they will provide an equally formidable compliment to an imposing defensive line.

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Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Top 5 Breakout Stars for the 2009 New York Giants

The Giants report for camp in Albany today, marking the beginning of the 2009 campaign. With several key departures, arrivals and returns, there are opportunities to be seized and improvements to be made. This week, Giants’ Steps looks at the five players ready to make that next step, not only to become a core contributor to their team, but to make a splash league-wide with the quality and impact of their play.

I present to you my top five “breakout” stars for the 2009 New York Giants…

#5) Terrell Thomas – Last year’s second round draft pick, Thomas proved down the stretch last season that he could play ball in the NFL. Overcoming injuries early in the season, Thomas notched up 45 tackles through 12 games, forced a fumble and picked off his first career interception.

In a unit filled with unheralded young stars (Corey Webster led the league in passes defensed last year and no one knows who he is), Thomas, entering his sophomore season, is expected to take on a larger role in the defense, and might even challenge Aaron Ross for the starting job opposite Webster. If his weekly improvement last season is any indication, receivers will have plenty to contend with when they line up against the former USC Trojan in 2009.

#4) Kevin Boss – Much like the Giants secondary, third-year TE Kevin Boss quietly had a great year last season. Taking over for the departed Jeremy Shockey, Boss managed to tie to the once-iconic Giants' Tight End’s career high for touchdowns in a season with six. He also evolved into a critical component of the Giants’ dominant rushing attack. (Click here for story)

Entering 2009, Boss’s game will continue to evolve under world-class position coach Mike Pope. His veteran status among a crop of otherwise young and inexperienced receivers, and his 6’5” frame, should make the young tight end a reliable target for QB Eli Manning and a dangerous red zone threat for opposing defenses.

#3) Ahmad Bradshaw – Boss’s draft class-mate, Ahmad Bradshaw, saw limited action last season as the third leg of the funk-alicious running back trio known as “Earth, Wind and Fire.” But with Derrick Ward’s departure in free agency, Bradshaw is poised to assume the #2 role and see significantly more playing time in 2009.

Competition will be fierce in training camp for the #2 spot, but Bradshaw’s senior status over fellow running backs Danny Ware and Andre Brown, and his impressive performance in the #2 role during the 2008 Super Bowl run, should give him the advantage. His presence on the field gives the Giants a slashing, cutting running back with the quickness and home run-hitting ability to reach the end zone from any distance.

#2) Chris Canty – The biggest of the Giants free agent acquisitions this offseason, literally and figuratively, the former Dallas Cowboy joins a defensive line that, early on, looks like the class in the NFL. With Pro Bowl DE’s Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck on either side, a rich rotation of starter-quality DTs to keep the pass rush fresh, and defensive Renaissance man Matthias Kiwanuka in the mix, Canty has the physical tools to emerge as a star in the unit.

His size makes him a lot to handle for two offensive linemen – a situation he was accustomed to as a 3-4 DE in Dallas. At DT in a 4-3 scheme, with Osi and Tuck each demanding double teams, Canty will be looking at a lot of one-on-one opportunities in 2009. His 6’7” frame and huge wingspan will most certainly affect quarterbacks mentally, if not physically knock a few balls down. The fun part though will be finding out how many quarterbacks he can swat to the ground.

#1) Kenny Phillips – Last but not least, the Giants first round draft pick from a year ago, stands poised to take the league by storm. After an impressive showing as a back-up his rookie year, KP assumes the starting role this year following the departure of James Butler.

"The Human Missile Crisis" - Catchy right?

From his early displays in camp to his strong performances on the field, Phillips showed last year he can do it all. He is a superb tackler and play-maker at the line of scrimmage; he has speed, fluidity and range to make plays in the open field; and he is a ball-hawk who can hit like a scud missile. I firmly believe that Phillips – "The Human Missile Crisis,” as I am tempted to call him (you heard that here first)—will be regarded as one of the premier safeties in the NFC in 2009, and mentioned in the same conversations as the Ed Reeds and Troy Polamalus of the league.
Camp is here! 2009 season here we come!

Cast your vote for the Giants' breakout star of 2009 in the Giants' Steps poll! (To the right!)

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