Sunday, September 27, 2009

Flawless Execution: Giants Dominate Bucs 24-0

A 2-0 team, badly banged up, coming off an emotional-but-flawed victory against a division rival and traveling south into 90 degree weather to take on a dangerous 0-2 team growing more desperate by the day… For any other NFL team, this might have qualified as a “trap game,” but not for the New York Giants.

I’m convinced, even before today’s blowout, that this team doesn’t play “trap games” anymore. The experiences of the past two seasons have helped forge a group of players, who despite compiling wins and playing some very good football, remain humble and hungry to improve and get better each week, regardless of the opponent. This week, Tampa Bay was no exception…

Despite two victories in two games in 2009, Big Blue had much to prove against their NFC South opponents. Eli Manning and company had failed to score a touchdown in the red zone all season, the defense gave up 254 rushing yards against the Cowboys in Week 2, and the league-leading running attack of 2008 was averaging a pedestrian 100 yards a game in 2009. Even against winless opponents, that wasn't going to cut it for the Giants, and they came to play.

GSTV checks in with more:

Game Balls

Pretty much the entire team plays well when you beat a team 24-0 and outgain them by over 300 yards, but still, a few exceptional performances warrant game balls:

The Giants Coaching Staff – Outstanding game plan, outstanding job preparing the team to play, outstanding play-calling. ’Nuff said…

The D-line – After giving up over 250 yards to the Cowboys in Week 2, the Giants’ defensive front absolutely shut down the Buccaneers’ running attack, holding Cadillac Williams and former Giant Derrick Ward to just 28 yards on the ground. While they failed to record a sack, Big Blue’s front four were in the backfield and in the quarterback’s face all game long.

Antonio Pierce – The Giant captain has looked sharp to me this season, and today was one of his headier performances so far this year. He battle down a couple of pass attempts, including one on a big red zone stop, and was a big reason why the Bucs' offense spent most of the game on the sidelines.

Ahmad Bradshaw – Bradshaw was a beast on the field Sunday, running for 104 yards on 14 carries in front of the man that used to handle the back-up duties for Brandon Jacobs. While Jacobs is the face of the Giants running attack, #44 set the tone for the ground game Sunday, running with speed, power and intensity. He broke off a 38 yard run in the first half. It’s just a matter of time before he takes one all the way to the house.

Steve Smith – The third-year receiver followed up on the best game of his career with another great performance: 7 receptions for 63 yards and a TD, and a number of crucial third down receptions. Last year Smith emerged as Eli Manning’s favorite target, and his stellar performance through the early part of the season has made him one of the most popular targets in the NFL. Smith ranks 2nd in the league in receptions with 23, and 4th in receiving yards with 277.

On to Road Again...

The Giants looked like their old selves against Tampa, dominating time of possession with a powerful running attack and dominant defense. They wrap up a three game road trip next week in Kansas City. With another strong performance, and a 3-0 stint away from the Meadowlands, the Giants might resurrect another dormant past identity: "Road Warriors."

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Giants: 3-0
Sack Count: 3
Take-away Count: 7

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Replacing a Play-maker: Kenny Phillips to IR

Fresh off of his best game as a pro, Kenny Phillips’ season abruptly came to an end on Thursday, as the Giants’ second-year Safety landed on IR with a rare knee ailment that had been affecting him since training camp: Patello-femoral Arthritis.

The Giants will miss not having No. 21 in pads this season.

The news hit me like…well, like Kenny Phillips. The young play-maker ranked up there among my favorite players on the team because of his outstanding athletic ability and the tremendous talent he brought to the position and to the field. At the beginning of the season, I tabbed him as my number one “Breakout Giant” of 2009.

But alas, the Giants put the brakes on the “Breakout Giant’s” 2009 season yesterday in hopes of addressing this serious condition as quickly and effectively as possible. Patello-femoral arthritis occurs when the cartilage behind the knee cap wears down to the point that the knee cap comes directly in contact with the femur…unpleasant, as you can imagine, and very rare for a 20-something year old football player.

Again, ouch.

While KP and the Giants were expecting/hoping to manage the injury throughout the season, an MRI on Wednesday revealed that Phillips’ condition had worsened since his 2 INT performance against the Cowboys. Word began circulating around noon on Thursday that the Giants were putting together a contingency plan, and shortly after 4pm, the worst was confirmed.

How Bad is It?

The nature of the injury, for me, is more troubling than the loss of Phillips’ presence on the field. And before I explain why I think the Giants will recover from this latest hit, I want to stress that KP’s recovery is what should take priority in everyone’s minds.

The phrase going around is “career-threatening,” due to the difficulties that come with treating it effectively and the rarity that it occurs in young people. Of course, a lot of this talk is coming from people unfamiliar with the specifics of Kenny’s injury, so take that for what you will. Ralph Vacchiano (see article) and Jenny Vrentas (see article) offer some great perspectives on that piece of the equation.

Ultimately however, a young man’s health and career could be in jeopardy. Keep him in your thoughts and prayers, and stay positive. I look at it this way: when the best athletes in the world work with the best doctors in the world, the outcome should be a good one. I expect to see Phillips back on the field next season to resume his promising career.

KP still has a few more Tony Romo passes to pick off...

Now back to the team…

Duck n’ Weave

Phillips is the first (and hopefully only) knockout blow in what has been a regular season filled with jabs through two weeks. With a basketball team’s worth of players watching from the sidelines, this team suddenly finds itself thin at positions many once considered to have great depth. Secondary is now at the top of that list.

C.C. Brown will start for Phillips, and the Giants claimed former Packer Aaron Rouse of waivers yesterday. Admittedly, both players are mysteries to me, though I think it’s safe to say neither has the raw play-making ability of KP.

Rolling with the Punches

Loss of talent aside, I don’t believe this will be a damning injury to the Giants’ chances this season. In the Giants’ scheme and with the talent already on the defensive side of the ball, Kenny Phillips’ talent was a luxury, not a necessity. With great pressure up front and solid cornerback play, Giants safeties just need to make tackles and be in the right place. While the preseason may have indicated this could be harder than it sounds for Brown, I have faith the Giants will be fine at the position. Here’s why:

First, Jerry Reese has a strong track record for bringing in mid-level talent via free agency. Kawika Mitchell and Danny Clark worked out well, and from first impressions Michael Boley could be a HUGE acquisition. Until proven otherwise, I will assume Reese has the same savvy for spotting solid DB’s as he does LB’s.

Second, this is an organization and locker room that demands its players be prepared to contribute at all times, and has a history of players upping their games to fill a void.
Despite an inconsistent preseason, Brown has become more comfortable in the system in recent weeks and has expressed his readiness to contribute in a bigger role.

Third, it doesn’t all fall on Brown, or Rouse...or Ed Reed if the Giants can pull off the long-shot Sinorice Moss trade to the Ravens. It will fall on the shoulders of everyone to pick up the slack, and if you put on a Giants jersey for a living, you can handle it. For those of us that put on the jersey for fun, I think we can handle it too…

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Giants 2-0
Sack Count: 4
Take-away Count: 6

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

5 Things We Learned from Sunday Night

The Pyramids, the Coliseum, the Great Wall…

On the night Jerry Jones unveiled his own magnificent construction to the world, the mammoth HD screen that overhangs the field at Cowboys Stadium displayed images of these architectural marvels. And while Cowboys Stadium was indeed spectacular (like the Pyramids) and the host to fierce combat (like the Coliseum), it did little to protect its inhabitants from the Northern invaders (like the…you get it).

Everything's ridiculously huger in Texas.

Genghis Tom and his horde of blue-clad warriors rode into town and defeated the Dallas Cowboys 33-31 in a thrilling game, decided in the final seconds by a Lawrence Tynes field goal. The game featured nine lead changes and no team ever led by more than six points. Many will point to the Cowboys 4 turnovers (3 INT’s from Romo) as the deciding factor in the game. I submit the Giants’ converting five trips to the red zone into just 12 points and 0 touchdowns was just as big a factor. You put touchdowns on the board, even half the time, this game is no contest.

Rookie free-agent CB Bruce Johnson returns Romo's first INT for a touchdown.

The win moves the Giants to 2-0 on the season, and perhaps more importantly 2-0 in the NFC East – a fine position to be in early in the season...It is indeed early however, and at this point in the year, players and fans alike are still getting a sense for what their teams are all about. While it is hard to get a pulse still on just how good Big Blue will be in 2009, here are five things that we CAN take away from Sunday night’s victory:

5. Michael Boley looks like a player. Last night Michael Boley made his Giant debut, starting at weak-side linebacker. Boley showed little ill effects from his off-season hip surgery as he was all over the field in the early parts of the game. Watching from home, it looked like he was in on every tackle through the first half (he finished with 7). As his stamina and comfort level with the defense develops, he looks poised to evolve into the play-maker the Giants believe he can be.

4. Our run defense still needs to work out the kinks. A week after completely shutting down the Washington Redskins’ ground attack, the Giants surrendered 251 yards on the ground to the Cowboys, with an average of 8.7 yards per carry. Part of that can be attributed to a great Dallas running game, part of it can also be attributed to a short-handed, still-getting-healthy D-line. A big part of it though is players missing assignments and being out of position. Big Blue will need to rebound to shut down Tampa Bay’s backs next week.

Felix Jones takes off...

3. Eli is the MAN. (This shouldn’t be a news flash to many of you...) His contract stirred up a lot of controversy this off-season among some circles (not any I spend much time in). Sunday night he showed off both the tangible and intangible qualities he possesses as a quarterback that make him one of the best in the NFL, and deserving of his lucrative extension. 25 for 38, for 330 yards and 2 TD’s, and ANOTHER game-winning drive in the clutch. Eli is the man. End of discussion.

Few are better at leading their team down the field in the clutch.

2. Did you catch that? Because Mario Manningham and Steve Smith sure did. Sunday night, as ESPN’s NFC East blogger Matt Mosley put it, the two receivers were the best players on the field. The duo have been catching everything thrown their way through two games, and more than that, they’re making plays with the ball once they have it in their hands. Reese’s decision not to trade for a veteran receiver in the off-season is looking pretty smart right now. When Nicks and Hixon return from injury, the Giants, stunningly, might be looking at one of the more potent passing attacks in the NFL.

Steve Smith has stepped up in a big way for Big Blue.

1. The “green zone” is a red zone for Big Blue. Tom Coughlin’s terminology for the most important area of the football field is rather ironic thus far this season because the Giants’ offense has not been able to “go” anywhere. In eight trips inside the 20 yard line, the Giants have managed zero touchdowns and come away with only 18 points. Eight trips to the red zone – 8 pts. For an offense so effective at moving the ball, this will have to change.

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Two weeks, two wins, and a handful of encouraging signs and concerns that the Giants can build on. How they handle the next few weeks, probably the easiest stretch of the schedule with games against the Bucs, Chiefs and Raiders, will reveal a lot about the identity of this team in 2009.

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Giants 2 - 0
Sack Count: 4
Take-away Count: 6

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Friday, September 18, 2009

5 Reasons the Giants will Beat the Cowboys

Sunday’s showdown in Dallas looms large on the horizon like the monstrous scoreboard in “The House that Jerry Built,” as what is arguably the most heated rivalry in the NFC East is set to resume this weekend.

Both teams are coming off Week 1 wins that were each impressive in their own right, but not without flaws. Dallas put on a prolific passing display, with over 350 yards and 3 scores through the air, but they also gave up over 450 yards and generated minimal pressure on the quarterback against a Tampa team widely recognized as “in transition.” The Giants showed off what could be a dominating defense in 2009. They controlled the clock and moved the ball against a stout defense. Their short yardage rushing and green zone efficiency left a lot to be desired however, and unless those areas are improved on, the Giants could struggle against more effective offenses this season.

How both sides follow up on their first performances of the season will reveal much about the nature of each team as well as the pecking order in the league’s toughest division. I think both teams are similar in many ways, and this weekend’s game could be one of the best from this early part of the season. Ultimately however, when it comes down to it, I believe that the Giants’ best is better than the Cowboys’ best, and they will prevail in a close contest.

Here are five reasons why:

5) The Road-Field Advantage. The Super Bowl-winning “Road Warriors” team of 2007 is still intact at the core. With more than 100,000 fans expected to join the celebration of Jerry’s creation, the stadium could be thunderous. For inferior or less experienced teams this could pose a big problem, but the Giants veteran group will be prepared for any challenges the environment might throw at them.

On the road again...

4) The Giants WR corps is stronger than the Cowboys secondary. With the exception of Terrence Newman, who has dropped off in recent years due to injury, I believe the Dallas secondary is mediocre at best. Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins are very young and still developing. In the limited opportunities I’ve had to watch them (including against Tampa Bay), they’ve looked like liabilities rather than threats. In Week 1, Byron Leftwich threw for 276 yards. If not for a few air balls, who knows what that total could have been?

The young Giants receiving corps, in contrast, stepped up big with some clutch catches and key plays to help put away the Redskins. Manning completed passes to eight different receivers in Week 1. The absence of a clear number one, and the speed and play-making ability after the catch of each of Manning’s young targets, could work to the Giants’ advantage and put an inconsistent Cowboys secondary on its heels.

3) The Giants secondary will not give up 350 passing yards. While Dallas’s offensive display in Week 1 was impressive, it was not as dominating as some fans might think. Half of the yards came on three plays (80, 66, 42 yard TD passes), and all of the yards came against a disoriented, disorganized secondary attempting to muddle through an off-season of inconsistencies and transitions (See article). Outside of those plays, the Cowboys offense looked rather pedestrian for much of the game.

The Giants defensive backfield features a rotation of young veterans that are very comfortable in their scheme, and excellent in coverage. The unit also is home to one of the premier shut-down corners in the league, Corey Webster. Webster held perennial deep-threat Santana Moss to just 6 yards this past Sunday. With the possible return of CB Kevin Dockery to line-up, I am very skeptical Dallas can put on a similar show in Week 2.

CB Corey Webster will be critical to the Giants' success on Sunday.

2) The Giants run defense is superb. While Dallas does boast an impressive trio of runners, the challenge before the group is great. With the exception of a blown play on Washington’s first carry of the game, the Giants D held Clinton Portis to 28 yards on 15 carries last Sunday, continuing its tradition from last season of shutting down opposing backs. The wild-card for me is Felix Jones, who is a threat any time the ball is in his hands. If any defense is programmed to shut down a player like Jones however, it is the athletic and versatile Giants front.

1) The Giants will run wild on the Cowboy’s D. The Giants’ managed over 100 yards with two backs against a very good defense (4th best in the league last season + perhaps the most formidable defensive line presence in the game in Albert Haynesworth). Dallas gave up 174 yards on the ground to the Bucs, the 15th best rushing attack in league last season (Admittedly, a healthy Cadillac Williams and Derrick Ward are a big upgrade, but the OL has 4 of the same 5 starters).

Dallas will most definitely be looking to rebound after such a poor defensive performance, but so too will a Giants O-line that struggled with short yardage last week and struggled with the Dallas front seven last year. The influx of new personnel to the Cowboys defensive front injects an additional element of uncertainty to the Cowboys’ chances. Advantage: Giants

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These two teams are evenly matched and I think we are in for a treat if we can control our anxiety long enough to appreciate the competition (not looking good on this end). Whichever team wins the battle for most effective running attack and most disruptive pass rush will go home with a “W.” If the Giants play their best football, I believe it will do the job.

Final score: Giants 27 – Cowboys 20

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Giants 1-0
Sack Count: 4
Take-away Count: 2

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Sunday, September 6, 2009

2009 NFL Season Predictions

Steps and the Bears Guy welcome Philadelphia Eagles fan extraordinairre "PR" to the show this week as they discuss their picks for the 2009 NFL season. Which teams will make the playoffs? Who will compete for the Lombardi Trophy at Super Bowl XLIV? Which team is a sleeper to make the playoffs?

Click the player below or "The Show" in the central column to listen. You can also download the show for your listening convenience. The panel's picks are also outlined below...


AFC Playoff Seeds: New England, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, San Diego, Miami, NY Jets
AFC Sleeper: Houston

NFC Playoff Seeds: Green Bay, Dallas, New Orleans, Seattles, NY Giants, Chicago
NFC Sleeper: Washington (amongst others)

Super Bowl: Giants vs. Colts

Bears Guy

AFC Playoff Seeds: New England, Baltimore, San Diego, Tenessee, Pittsburgh, Houston
AFC Sleeper: Oakland

NFC Playoff Seeds (loose order): Dallas, Carolina, Chicago, Seattle, New Orleans, Minnesota
NFC Sleeper: N/A

Super Bowl: Bears vs. Ravens


AFC Playoff Seeds: New England, Indianapolis, Baltimore, San Diego, Miami, Houston
AFC Sleeper: Denver

NFC Playoff Seeds: NY Giants, Minnesota, Carolina, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Green Bay
NFC Sleeper: N/A

Super Bowl: Eagles vs. Ravens

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Friday, September 4, 2009

Regular Season, Here We Come

Two things went through my head immediately following Thursday night’s final preseason game: “Yes, we made it.” and “Yes, the Fifth Element is on!” And while I had a few too many drinks in me to make it through the sci-fi classic without falling asleep, I was wide awake for the Giants’ last tune-up match…and I liked what I saw.

Arguably, Chris Tucker's least annoying role.

For many teams, the fourth preseason game carries very little weight and serves to function only as a final audition for those pushing for those last few roster spots. The Patriots embraced this notion fully, as they rested all of their starters. The Giants decided to bring out the big guns for a few series – a risky but wise move in my opinion – and they were firing on all cylinders.

Building Momentum

On both side of the ball, the Giants first-teamers did their jobs against the Patriots back-ups. On offense, Big Blue scored a touchdown on each of their first three drives, all through the air. Even more impressively, Eli Manning and David Carr did not throw an incomplete pass. Sinorice “I just made this team” Moss hauled in two TDs, and rookie Hakeem Nicks followed up on his two score performance in Week 3 with another long touchdown run. An interesting note on Nicks from Newsday’s Tom Rock: he leads the league in receptions during the preseason.

The Giants' first-round draft pick made a splash in the final weeks of August.

On defense, a chain of three-and-outs by the first-teamers, with sacks in the first two series and an interception that was not called was enough to impress through the TV. It took some top notch detective work after the fact from Mike Garafolo at the Newark Star Ledger to uncover that the Giants first team defense allowed a total of -6 yards!

I said “Phew, we made it” above because I was relieved we made through the preseason without catastrophic injury, but I thought we ended the exhibition season on a very positive and encouraging note. Both sides of the ball definitely took steps in the right direction last night and I think we have a lot of talent and momentum to build on as we prepare for the Redskins.

Off the Bubble

Of course, the main question of "Who is going to make the team?" was not overshadowed by the first team’s performance. Perhaps the biggest name on the bubble was Moss. I think his two touchdown performance secured him a spot on this team. He is undoubtedly a talent and somebody I think can deliver on this team when called upon in the right situations. I thought RB Allen Patrick also made his case for a roster spot with solid work running the ball and an energized effort on special teams.

WR Sinorice Moss showed he can make the plays when called upon.

No other bubble players jumped out at me. On the contrary, many made a case not to make the team. We don’t have a third quarterback worthy of a roster spot. After the top four CBs and starting Safeties, I don’t know that there is much depth at defensive back either. C.C. Brown will most likely make the team, but his play has been very inconsistent. My projection for fifth CB, Stoney Woodson, was cut last week because of an ankle injury. No one else on the Giants roster has stood up to claim that spot.

Ready for Battle

Of course, the Giants aren’t the only team making cuts on Saturday and some talent should be available at these weak positions. Philadelphia currently has four capable QBs on their roster so that’s one situation to keep an eye on. I will certainly be scanning the waiver wires to see which DB’s become available as well. I’m sure Jerry Reese and company will be doing the same. The Giants have landed some major contributors in free agency the last few seasons, including Domenik Hixon and Madison Hedgecock. We’ll see if they have some more magic in their hats this season.

Beyond addressing these depth concerns, the Giants have a roster ready to go. People will continue to question the wide receivers but the talent is undeniably there. They have a stable of wide-outs capable of getting behind defenses, and each brings something unique to the table. It will all come down to consistency of execution. Thursday night’s performance was a step in the right direction.

For me, the most pressing issue is getting guys healthy. DT Chris Canty and CB Aaron Ross are both nursing hamstring injuries that have kept them out for the bulk of the preseason. As one beat-writer pointed out, 10 of the Giants’ 11 projected starters have missed time this summer with injuries. All five of the Giants defensive tackles have missed time with injury, including Jay Alford who is out for the season. Not only do these injuries negate the Giants’ much-touted “depth” on defense, but they also complicate Bill Sheridan’s transition to Defensive Coordinator. We need to get guys healthy, otherwise the elite Giant defense everyone keeps praising could take more time to develop than the team can afford.

The regular season is days away. With some smart moves on the waiver wire and some good luck in the training room, this team looks ready for battle. Redskins, here we come!

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