This week's foe needs no introduction. I remember when I first arrived in Dallas in 1998, I was always interested in the discussion of who is the Cowboys biggest rival (according to Cowboys fans). They are very similar to the University of Texas in the rivals department as everyone counts them as their biggest game, but what did you feel?
I can't remember what the results were in my survey, because the important thing I learned is "it depends who you ask". Well, if you ask me, the Giants are the biggest current rivalry in my mind. These two teams do not like eachother. At all. In fact, they go out of their way to say it. And it is pretty clear that bulletin board material is not a very big worry for either side.
This is an amazing division, as their are traditional powers in every direction. Off the top of my head, I believe it is the only division in football with all 4 teams owning NFL Titles (yes, in 1960, the Eagles last won the NFL Title; and no, I will not count AFL Titles for the purpose of my point).
From 2000-2008, here are the division standings:
|Team||Reg Season||Playoffs (SB Rec)|
What makes the Giants stats more compelling is that while Philadelphia has accomplished its excellence with Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb for the whole run (and Bryan Westbrook for most of it), the Giants have proved quality with 2 coaches (Fassel and Coughlin), 2 QBs (Collins and Manning), and 2 RBs (Barber and Jacobs). They have a system in place that drafts well, develops well, and doesn't make too many personnel mistakes and that puts them where they are every year - in the playoff hunt.
Take a look at their depth chart and see the how many of those key players are home-grown. It is really a remarkable testament to finding players in April so that when your core players leave (Tiki, Strahan, Shockey) you are not sitting there with a huge void or spending a year counting on a rookie to produce.
Of course, no team could prepare to lose its #1 WR to a gun charge as the Giants did last December with Plaxico Burress. For good reason, that is the top question that keeps some people from putting the Giants right in the heart of the Super Bowl chase. I am one of them, as I don't think the Giants will make the playoffs for this very reason. I think the Giants are too easy to defend without a WR or TE who can get behind your safeties routinely. They may have that guy on their roster (I assume the best deep threat right now is Domenik Hixon or Mario Manningham), but we have not seen that emerge yet. Burress was perfect for their offense as both a big play guy and a 3rd down insurance policy, and now he is gone.
Newsday said the group of WRs did well on Sunday versus Washington ...
The Giants might lack a home run threat without Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer, but quarterback Eli Manning's corps of wide receivers showed sure hands in the clutch and made nearly all the big plays on offense in a 23-17 season-opening win over the Redskins Sunday.
Backup Mario Manningham turned a sideline screen into a 30-yard touchdown, and starter Steve Smith caught six balls, including a 26-yarder that set up the clinching field goal in the fourth quarter.
For the opener at least, the preseason question marks surrounding the wideouts turned into exclamation points.
Of Manning's 20 completions for 256 yards, 12 went to the wide receivers for 166 yards, including six third-down conversions.
"We knew a lot of the third-down calls would be for three wide receivers, so we were happy," Smith said.
Manningham, a second-year player from Michigan, did all his damage in the first half. On third-and-7 from the Redskins' 30 early in the second quarter, Manningham caught a quick out on the right sideline after Manning spotted the blitz coming. Manningham stepped out of a tackle attempt by defensive end Andre Carter and then danced around Hall coming across for a diving attempt and took it to the end zone.
The one sour note for the Giants' wide receivers was the left foot sprain suffered by No. 1 draft pick Hakeem Nicks. He dropped the first ball thrown to him early but came back with two second-half receptions for 18 yards, injuring himself on a 7-yard catch that led to a field goal for a 20-10 lead. X-rays were negative.
"It felt like I overstretched it," Nicks said. "I never had a foot injury, but I never missed a game with a sprained ankle."
If you watched the game, you would probably agree that the Redskins contest did little to answer all of the questions about the ability of the Giants to get yardage in big chunks. Much of their offense seemed to come in short passes to the flanks and short crosses. As far as pushing the safeties down the seams or over the top, I didn't see a whole lot to contest my off-season theory. I would imagine they will face plenty of 8-in-the-box defending until they back the defenses off with some big plays.
One thing I want to look at on Thursday was the National Football Post Blue Rankings to see how Michael Lombardi and friends feel about the talent on the other side. With the Giants, not only do you face a roster that is loaded with studs, but also they have 1 of the 5 coaches that NFP felt are above the rest:
Bill Belichick: Clearly one of the game’s best.
Tom Coughlin: Great game manager; his teams are prepared.
Jeff Fisher: He’s outstanding.
Andy Reid: Struggles with game management, but his 107 wins deserve blue status.
Mike Tomlin: Young, but his staff helps him and the players believe in him. He’s won me over, and the Lombardi Trophy in the case helps.
So, the NFP Rankings include Coughlin when you consider the overall power of their team:
BLUE CHIP: HC, Coughlin, OG, Snee; DE, Tuck; DE, Umenyiora; ILB, Pierce.
ALMOST BLUE: QB, E. Manning; OC, O’Hara; CB, Webster; S, Phillips.
Otherwise, you see 5 defensive starters and 3 offensive starters on this list. Compared to the 4 players the Bucs put in his rankings, you can clearly surmise that the Giants are loaded at plenty of spots.
But, on offense, if you are going to have special players, you want them at impactful positions when at all possible. That is why a Guard and a Center are nice to have, but it hardly makes you confident that they can score 24 in the playoffs.
That offensive line of Diehl-Seubert-O'Hara-Snee-McKenzie is the true strength of that team. Football Outsiders points out that only the Giants and Jets have had their entire OL intact for the all 32 games in the last 2 years. They never get hurt, they pound the ball, and they generally keep Eli Manning from getting drilled. In watching the game on Sunday, it is clear that they love running the Brandon Jacobs lead play right behind Chris Snee into the "A" gap and "B" gap on either side of him. Running the ball does plenty, and although Giants fans will tell you they want more on 3rd and short, this is still a dominating OL when they are going right.
Eli Manning could demand his entire blog entry, as I have never believed him to be close to elite. In fact, I have long felt to compare Tony Romo to Eli is silliness, but my boat has taken on quite a bit of water in my defense of Romo as Eli has won plenty of huge games over the last 24 months while Romo has not. To the victors go the spoils, so Eli has jewelry that will always be his.
I will point out (Or Football Outsiders will) that: "Manning still has accuracy issues - his rating of 80.9 on our accuracy index was below the league average of 82.6 percent, and 26th amongst quarterbacks who threw at least 100 passes."
But, he wins and he moves the chains. Perhaps, a perfect fit for what they need him to do most of the time. And that would explain why the Giants made him a very rich man last month :
The Giants are about to make Eli Manning the NFL's highest-paid player, and as far as they're concerned, he's worth every penny.
The 28-year-old quarterback and former Super Bowl MVP has agreed to terms on a new deal that will pay him $106.9 million over the next seven years, according to sources familiar with the negotiations. He'll get a six-year, $97.5 million extension on his current contract, which calls for him to earn $9.4 million this season.
It's not the largest deal in NFL history, but the average of $15.27 million between now and 2015 when the deal expires is an NFL record. The total package also will make Manning the eighth member of the $100 million-quarterback club.
I wrote my take on the topic back in August, here .
Defensively, the biggest question (and there really aren't any huge ones) is what personality new DC Bill Sheridan will give the '09 Giants defense. Steve Spagnuolo took the Rams HC job, and Sheridan, who served as the LB coach under Spagnuolo is now in charge. He claimed this off-season that he plans on changing philosophy a bit from Spags, employing simplified blitzes and relying plenty on his front 4 to get to the QB on many occasions.
That is what jumps out most about the Washington game, as my eye caught plenty of downs where the Giants drop 7 in coverage, and with Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Chris Canty, and Matthias Kiwanuka rushing on passing downs - it is very formidable. If they then dial up a blitz to add to that chaos, they can get into any backfield with relative ease.
Of course, we should mention that before last week there was plenty of Sheridan vs Osi coverage in New York about an incident in the film room in late August :
The latest episode came out of nowhere yesterday when defensive end Osi Umenyiora left the team's new facility before practice without notifying the coaching staff or the front office.
But according to two people informed of Umenyiora's reason for leaving, the two-time Pro Bowl selection went home after first-year defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan criticized him during a meeting to recap the preseason loss to the Jets on Saturday. Both people, who requested anonymity because neither the Giants nor Umenyiora's camp publicly discussed the specifics of the situation, said Umenyiora believed Sheridan was "contradicting" himself in his criticism.
One of the people said Umenyiora has gotten off to a rough start with Sheridan, though Umenyiora had not expressed his concerns about the former linebackers coach who became coordinator when Steve Spagnuolo left in January to become coach of the Rams. The person also said there was no confrontation or argument between Umenyiora and Sheridan before Umenyiora left the facility.
Anyway, the depth of the Giants front 7 is very impressive. And with Michael Boley possibly back on Sunday (more on that later), Rick Gosselin wrote about the crew's rotation possibilities :
The Giants suited up eight defensive linemen in the opener against Washington and used them all, limiting the Redskins to 85 yards rushing while collecting three sacks. Six defensive linemen registered tackles, and Tuck and Umenyiora managed sacks.
Most NFL offenses do not rotate offensive linemen, so New York's goal is to throw wave after wave of fresh bodies and fresh legs at blockers, wearing them down during the course of the game. The Giants try to run offensive linemen ragged with different players and different looks.
Tuck lines up at strongside end but will move inside to tackle in pass-rush situations. Chris Canty, who played end for the Cowboys in 2008 but has been converted to a tackle in New York's 4-3 scheme this season, also hits the field on passing downs. So does Mathias Kiwanuka, who collected eight sacks in 2008 as a starter in place of the injured Umenyiora.
In his first game back after missing the 2008 season with a knee injury, Umenyiora scored his second career touchdown on a sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery and 37-yard jaunt to the end zone against the Redskins.
Starting tackles Barry Cofield and Fred Robbins are the heart of the run defense, giving the Giants a combined 614 pounds at the point of attack. Of the 85 yards rushing the Redskins managed against the Giants, 16 came on a quarterback scramble by Jason Campbell and eight more on a fake field goal. So pounding away at Cofield and Robbins, the Redskins managed only 61 yards on the ground.
One of Newsday's bloggers actually counted the snaps to show how the Giants are deploying their bigs up front on Defense :
Justin Tuck: 40 total snaps (23 defensive end, 17 tackle)
Osi Umenyiora: 39 total snaps (all end)
Mathias Kiwanuka: 37 total snaps (all end)
Chris Canty: 23 total snaps (22 tackle, 1 end)
Barry Cofield: 22 total snaps (all tackle)
Rocky Bernard: 21 total snaps (all tackle)
Fred Robbins: 19 total snaps (all tackle)
You can see on that chart that Tuck will be over Colombo on base downs, then moves inside and Kiwanuka goes outside on passing downs. 3 gifted pass rushers on the edge, and then Cofield, Robbins, Benard, and Canty all stay fresh on the inside by only playing in bursts.
This morning, we are seeing (already in Week 2) how injuries can change a match-up quite a bit. NJ.com is showing some very big injury issues in the Giants secondary that could affect the game :
Two years ago, in a late-season loss to the Cowboys, safety Michael Johnson made a rookie mistake when he watched Dallas quarterback Tony Romo and assumed he was going to throw to Jason Witten crossing in front of him, allowing Terrell Owens to get deep for a touchdown that sealed a Cowboys' victory.
We rehash that moment because Johnson, now a three-year veteran and an integral part of the Giants' defense, was speaking with reporters Wednesday about what he saw on tape from the Buccaneers' defense as Tampa Bay was allowing the Cowboys to throw for 353 yards in last Sunday's Dallas victory.
"Guys on the other team weren't focusing on their keys," Johnson said. "There were more eyes on the quarterback than there were on the routes, so some plays got busted wide open."
What a difference three years makes.
And what a difference it would be for the Giants if Johnson and fellow starting safety Kenny Phillips were not able to play on Sunday against the Cowboys. Both players were sidelined for practice yesterday -- Phillips with a knee injury that kept him out of three preseason games and Johnson with a burner suffered in last Sunday's victory over the Redskins.
Phillips and Johnson both said they'd practice Thursday, though Johnson sounded more certain he'd be ready for Sunday while Phillips indicated his injury could linger.
"I'm pretty sure I'll play," Phillips said. "I'm not too worried about it right now. I'm practicing (today), I'm going to go out there at full speed and whatever happens, happens. The coaches and the training staff, they're doing a pretty good job with maintaining it. We'll do whatever it takes to get through the season."
The Giants only have three safeties on the roster, so with Phillips and Johnson sidelined, they were forced to use one of their two undrafted free agents at safety for yesterday's practice. It's unclear if it was Sha'reff Rashad or Vince Anderson, as players are not permitted to speak about practice. Either way, a player on the practice squad, not the active roster, was working with the first-team defense.
"That's when I have to step up and help them big time," said veteran C.C. Brown, the only backup safety on the roster. "But they're coming along fine. I'm not expecting a whole lot out of them because they're rookies, and I remember how my head was spinning as a rookie."
LB Michael Boley (hip) was limited in practice after sitting out the Washington game due to a one-game suspension (violating the league's personal conduct policy). Boley said whether he makes his Giants debut on Sunday will be up to the coaches and the training staff.
CB Kevin Dockery (hamstring) was limited but took all of his scheduled snaps and appears to be on track to play on Sunday after sitting out the opener.
DT Chris Canty, who has been battling a hamstring injury, was limited because of a calf issue. Canty was not in the locker room while the media were inside and coach Tom Coughlin wasn't available to reporters after practice, so the full extent of his injury is unknown. But it would take a lot to keep him out of his first game against his former team.
With Aaron Ross, Kenny Phillips, Kevin Dockery, and Michael Johnson all gimpy or out altogether, the responsibility falls to that front 7 to get pressure on Romo or face another aerial show. But we will look more into that tomorrow as we focus on the key match-ups.