Monday, November 30, 2009

Here's The Release

Here is the Giants' official press release regarding the IRing of defensive captain Antonio Pierce, complete with Pierce and Tom Coughlin quotes.

Antonio Pierce Placed on Injured Reserve
By Michael Eisen
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants must play the rest of the season without their defensive captain.

Middle linebacker Antonio Pierce today was placed on injured reserve, officially ending his 2009 season. Pierce, who was leading the Giants in tackles for the fourth consecutive season, was diagnosed with a bulging disc in his neck on Nov. 20. The Giants said then that Pierce would be sidelined indefinitely. But the team believes Pierce’s neck injury will not improve enough for him to return to the field this season.

“The doctors have told me that given my current condition, the risk of playing is too great, regardless of how I feel physically,” Pierce said. “That is the most disappointing part of this, because I feel great and have no pain. But I will keep my head up and be there the rest of the way to do my part to keep the boys going.”

“He’s certainly going to be missed,” Coach Tom Coughlin said. “You have a guy who’s been a three-year captain. He’s an outstanding leader. He rallies the troops as well as anybody we’ve had. He’s a very strong personality, obviously. He’s a very, very smart player. He could make a lot of significant adjustments. He made all the checks from the defensive standpoint."

Pierce suffered a burner in the Arizona game on Oct. 25. He experienced very little discomfort until he practiced the week prior to the Nov. 22 victory over Atlanta. That Friday, the Giants’ medical staff sent Pierce to the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan for an MRI. Pierce was examined by team physician Dr. Russell Warren and Dr. Frank Camissa, Chief of the Spinal Surgical Services at HSS. They diagnosed the bulging disc.

Pierce said he was “shocked” when he received the news from the doctors.

“(He) was so abruptly taken away,” Coughlin said. “The original shock was that he was going over there to get an MRI just to see what the status was. We didn’t expect this kind of news.

“Originally our concerns were for him and I told the team this. In a team meeting I said, ‘Our concerns are for A.P., because it was a shock for him.' I remember seeing him right after he found out the news and he couldn’t hold back the tears. He’s a very emotional guy. He loves the game, loves to play. He’s very smart. He does an outstanding job with all the intellectual parts of the game. The players have relied and depended on him.”

Pierce has been the Giants’ middle linebacker since 2005 and a team captain each of the last three seasons. When he was sidelined, Pierce had 51 tackles (31 solo), one more than Terrell Thomas. The nine-year veteran and fifth-year Giant had three tackles for losses, a sack, two passes defensed, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Pierce has been a durable player since joining the Giants as a free agent in 2005. He was a Pro Bowler the following year. Pierce has played in 69 of 73 regular season games and six of seven postseason games. He had started every game this season before the neck injury surfaced. In 2008, he missed a victory over San Francisco with a quad injury. Previously, his most serious injury was a severely sprained ankle in 2005, which kept him out of the final three regular season games and the NFC Wild Card Game vs. Carolina (though the Giants did not place him on injured reserve).

Five-year veteran Chase Blackburn has started the previous two games at middle linebacker. He finished with seven tackles (three solo) in the victory over Atlanta and seven more (six solo) in the loss at Denver on Thanksgiving night.

“He (Pierce) cannot play any more this season and other players are going to have to recognize what his contribution was to the defense and to the team,” Coughlin said. “They’re going to have to play better – they’re going to have to step up and play better.”

The Giants have not yet made a roster move to fill Pierce's void on the active roster.
EP

It's Blackburn's Job Now

Middle linebacker Antonio Pierce has been placed on the season-ending injured reserve list with the bulging neck disc that showed up during an MRI the week before last.

That means, for now, at least, that the MLB spot will be handled permanently by Chase Blackburn, with Jonathan Goff probably coming in for several series per game. The announcement, while made just a few minutes ago, is not a surprise considering the expectation that Pierce would be out a minimum of six weeks anyway. It is likely now, however, that the 31-year-old Pierce has played his last game in a Giants uniform.

No surgery is planned yet to repair the disc. And the Giants have yet to make a move to fill his roster spot.

EP

Tuck's Optimism

Listening to Justin Tuck on today's conference call, I suspected Nelly Forbush and the SeaBees were prancing in front of him. That's the kind of cockeyed optimism he was preaching today as the Giants prepare their attempt to escape this 1-5 death spiral against the Cowboys.

Obviously, everyone from outside to the team to those inside the locker room and coaching offices are counting this as a "must-win" game, with good reason. The season is that close to going out of control. But when asked his level of optimism -- scale of one to 10 -- for success in this stretch of three NFC East opponents, Tuck answered "11."

"Call me ignorant and foolish, but that's the only way I know how to approach things."

This coming from one of the leaders of a defense that has given up two late leads, followed by a total annihalation, over the last three games. Too look at such erratic defense and expect it to turn around overnight, as the Giants must somehow make it, is the height of optimism. But Tuck took it to an even higher level.

"To be erratic, you have to do some good things, right?" Tuck said. "We've proven we can play good. We've got to find a way to do it on a consistent basis.

"We've had games where we've played pretty decent. I guess that's why I'm optimistic, because I've seen us do it and I know we're capable of doing it. It's just like when we were 5-0 and everything went south. We're 6-5 and everything goes north."

He can only hope. Little has seemed to work in that regard, save for a fortuitous coin flip at the end of regulation against Atlanta. Players-only meetings, with much the same tenor as the one Denver safety Brian Dawkins held before his team went out and abused the Giants offensively and defensively, haven't done the trick. Whatever adjustments the coaching staff has made to their blocking and coverage schemes haven't helped.

But it was obvious to both Tuck and Eli Manning that a drastic change must hit this struggling bunch over the next week to ensure a sweep of the season series against Dallas and keep fast-fading playoff hopes alive.

"There's got to be a sense of urgency," Manning said. "We don't have time to kind of figure out and slowly become a better team and make strides. We've got to make a jump.

"We've got to jump back to playing good football. We're still capable of playing at a high level. We've got to stick with it, stick with each other. We've got a lot of people doubting us right now, but we've got to fight together. It's about the coaches and players trusting each other and going out there and just doing it."

Tuck said it's a matter of continuing to play with a good attitude, even though that did not appear in evidence against Denver.

"I don't know how you pick your urgency. I thought the urgency was there last week. I thought like we were ready to play," he said. "We've got to do a better job of it this week."

Do that, and a situation that seems hopeless now could turn hopeful in 60 minutes. And that's something this team needs in the worst way, on more than one level.

"We just gotta go out and handle our business," Manning said. "At this point, you say 'Let's get back to winning games, let's get back to playing good football. If anything, because it's more fun when you're playing at a high level.

"We're out here practicing and taking the time to prepare, putting in all these hours to get ready. Let's go enjoy it. That's the fun part, playing at a high level and playing in some tight games and trying to pull out a victory. That's where we stand right now."

Optimism, the cock-eyed kind or not, is about all the Giants have left at this point.

EP

Eli's Not Stressed

Well, as far as his foot goes, anyway.

Just got off the phone on a conference call with Eli Manning, and he said he's been dealing with the reported "stress reaction" in his foot for about four weeks, when an MRI found it near the bye week.
"It's been the same the past three or four weeks," Manning said. "Nothing new. I feel like I can go out there in practice and do what I need to do."

Manning said the injury should not necessitate offseason surgery if it remains as it is. However, that could change if the bone breaks through and ends his season prematurely. But he said he wasn't worried about that happening.

"Time and rest is probably the biggest thing," Manning said. "Having this weekend to rest it is helpful. It's not something that will linger or bother me.

"It's making me frustrated because it's been one thing leading to another. It's frustrating when you have to go to the training room and get treatment. It throws you schedule out of whack. You have to get there early in the morning and pushes your schedule back. That's been the biggest annoyance, but when I'm playing the games, I'm not thinking about it."

Manning also rejected reports that indicated he was limping on the field in Denver during the Giants' 26-6 Thanksgiving night loss there.

"I wasn't limping on the field," he said. "It's not something that bothers me when I'm playing."

We sort of have to take Manning at his word on that. While it may have seemed to bother him Thursday, the span from MRI to the breaking of the report Sunday also included the San Diego and Atlanta games, contests in which Manning played well while executing entirely different gameplans. Against San Diego, he made use of the short passing game to move the team effectively. Against Atlanta, he relied on the big play.

In both games, it appeared he was able to step into his throws and buy himself time in the pocket. None of that happened in Denver, however.

He also hasn't missed a practice since he initially injured his plantar fascia in his right heel against Kansas City.

"I feel like it's getting better," Manning said. "In the game, I don't think about it. I'm not overly concerned with it. This is new news to you all, but this is something that's been around and I've been playing with it for four weeks. It's not something that's annoying me or affecting my performance on the field.

"It hasn't been an issue for me. I'm able to play at the level I want to play at. For the San Diego game, I played well and moved around. In the Atlanta game, I moved around and threw the ball well. I didn't want to play as well as I wanted (Thursday), but we had some self-inflicting problems that kept us from scoring points."

Manning said he gets treatment for an hour or so almost every day. He said he can walk around normally, and has been able to push off and make throws during practice.

Still, the way this season has gone, there's an overriding feeling that Manning's season could well come to a premature end if the bone breaks through. If that happens, it will be up to David Carr to salvage what's left of the Giants' season.

Of course, there may not be much of a season left if they don't beat the Cowboys this week. But if they fail, Manning said it won't be because of his foot.

"I don't feel it affecting me," he said. "I can move in the pocket, run around, make throws, push off. It's the kind of thing that's there, but once I start playing it's not something I think about."

EP

The Votes Are In!

The voting booth is closed, and a goodly number of the 171 who voted in our latest poll about what to do with Bill Sheridan must see something in defensive backs coach Pete Giunta. Fifty-one of you, or 29 percent, decided that the Giants would be well-served by replacing the defensive coordinator with Giunta, who was originally considered as Steve Spagnuolo's successor along with Sheridan.

As you can see, however, that choice wasn't an overwhelming majority. In fact, there was no majority, as you guys offered a wide range of solutions.

The idea of keeping Sheridan where he is, but allowing him to coach upstairs as he said he wanted to, drew 38 votes, or 22 percent. And 35 people, 20 percent of the vote, said Tom Coughlin would be better off firing Sheridan outright and taking over the defense himself. Twenty-six votes, 15 percent, were in favor of firing Sheridan for defensive line coach Mike Wauffle. And 21, 12 percent, said Coughlin should keep Sheridan but increase his own input into the defensive decision-making.

Just goes to show you that even when everything is going wrong, there's no clear-cut solution to the problem.

EP

Oh, Those Eagles

No Giants highlights today -- and no snide remarks about how they don't have any, anyway. But here's an almost-example of what I was talking about yesterday, the highlights of the near-miss the Eagles had against the lowly Redskins.

Enjoy as you start thinking hard about the Cowboys coming up Sunday.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Eli's Foot

As if the Giants don't have enough worries, here's something for them to ponder for the future.

Eli Manning's injured right heel isn't getting any better. In fact, it could soon get worse and potentially bring a premature end to his season.

Adam Schefter of ESPN, in a report today, said doctors have found what is called a stress reaction in the right foot that was previously hampered by a plantar fascia injury to the heel. That could be a precursor to a stress fracture, which Manning probably wouldn't recover from until next season.

Doctors are trying to get the quarterback to stay off the foot, and have given him orthotics and a bone stimulator in hopes of keeping things status quo, Schefter said.

Losing their franchise quarterback no doubt would bring this season crashing to a halt. It's unlikely the Giants have the kind of faith or communication with backup David Carr that they have with Manning, even in light of Manning's struggles of last Thursday. He was seen limping, obviously because of the situation in his right foot.

For a team with performance issues on both front lines, a weak set of safeties, and inconsistent offense, the last thing they needed was this news. Even Manning's well-known toughness won't be enough to overcome this if the bone breaks through.

It's a real headache.

Okay, gang. Start fretting.

EP

There's Still Hope

When the Giants reconvene today to start preparations for Dallas, they shouldn't do so with a loser's attitude. Despite what happened in Denver -- and there's no downplaying the enormity of how that loss was accomplished -- reality states that they're still 6-5 and well in range of at least a wildcard spot.

Now, they lose to Dallas, it's a different story. They get blown out by the Cowboys in another Denver-like effort, it's an entirely new book, this one with a sad, sad ending. But for now, the Giants should head into the preparation week with full focus after, hopefully, three days of soul-searching. They'll need to dig down deep to get this thing turned around, but it can be done.

"Well we have a five game schedule," Tom Coughlin said. "One game at a time with these outstanding divisional games coming up and then two other extremely good opponents in addition. We always take them one game at a time. We have to see how we come back now and rally back from a loss which none of us are proud of.

"Certainly we will utilize every aspect of motivation that we can to get our guys back on track and realize you are one game away from turning some of this around. But it is going to take a real consciousness effort to change the nature of the way we played the other day and turn it into the kind of physical team we aspire to be."

The one thing the Giants can hang onto is the nature of the NFC. Aside from New Orleans and Minnesota, nobody's running away with anything. Not even the NFC East. Dallas rose to 8-3, two games ahead of the third-place Giants Thursday, but does anybody truly believe they're incapable of falling on their faces down the stretch? Philadelphia, in second place and next on the Giants' three-game divisional stretch here, lost to Oakland a few weeks ago. OAKLAND! And Washington is Washington.

After that, it's Carolina, who should be nearing the end of the John Fox era, and then the Vikings, who might offer the Giants one quarter of Brett Favre after having wrapped up the No. 1 or No. 2 seed.

See how it can all work out? A lot of stuff is going to be happening around the division in the next five weeks, much that can benefit the Giants. Of course, none of it counts unless Coughlin's group shapes up.

Here are a couple of suggestions to that end.

Eli Manning: Get back to the short passing game using liberal doses of Kevin Boss. And for heaven's sake, stop changing the darned play. Get the snap off quickly so as to keep the defense off balance. Live with the play Kevin Gilbride calls once in a while, and keep in mind that there are no perfect play calls.

Brandon Jacobs: This is more directed at Gilbride. Enough with the stretch plays. Get Jacobs going forward from the start. Send him toward a hole and let him hit it and battle for the yards, and let him inflict the punishment a battering ram-type running back should. A steady dose of Jacobs, running downhill, would probably provide a much-needed boost for an offensive line that appears trapped in an emotional quagmire. Give them a chance to do what they do best -- physical run blocking -- and you'll eventually see results.

Osi Umenyiora: A little less yelling, a little more playing. He didn't make a single tackle against Denver, and he's averaged about two plays per game for the longest time. Somebody tell him it's okay to make three, four, five plays. No time to be humble here. The lights are on. Hog the spotlight.

Fred Robbins, Barry Cofield, Chris Canty, Rocky Bernard: Anybody home? This rotation was supposed to be the rock of the defense, impenetrable and fearsome. Instead, no push on the pass rush, and opponents run up the middle at will. With the full realization that Robbins and Cofield are coming off serious knee surgeries and Canty is probably still suffering from that calf injury, the fact is they're still out there playing. Time to suck it up, let it all hang out. If they re-injure themselves seriously enough for a trip to the IR, at least they'll have gone down fighting.

C.C. Brown, Aaron Rouse, Michael Johnson, Aaron Ross: That's the back line of the defensive middle. If this was baseball, the hitters would be slamming every pitch off the centerfield fence because there's nobody there to catch anything. Everybody wants to blame Bill Sheridan for the faulty gameplan and communication problems. But there is such a thing as playing above the Xs and Os, as Coughlin likes to say. Nobody's doing that. It wouldn't hurt to play a little instinctually. Unless, and this might just be the case, they have no instincts. If that's the case, then they at least need to get the gameplanned assignments down. And I'm sure a little more studying would help, too.

Notice how there isn't one mention of gimmickry or trickery here. It's basics, fundamentals. Execution. If that doesn't work, then the season is truly lost.

But it's not yet. A lot of teams would sign for 6-5 right now, no matter how they got there.

The Giants just have to realize that.

EP

Another Viewpoint

I like to think we've got the Giants' problems locked down and explained right here. But it stands to reason that there is intelligent life outside this little universe, and no better proof of that comes with this bit of insight from my Q&A buddy Ed Valentine at Big Blue View.

Ed has a very detailed accounting of the Giants' run problems. It's certainly worth a read, considering that's one of the major issues with this offense. So give him a look. Then come back here and tell me what you think.

Also remember that there's one day left to vote in our poll about what Tom Coughlin should do about defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan. Cast your ballot and then explain yourself on the poll entry. Poll closes at 10 a.m. tomorrow.

EP

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Poll Time!

Seems like a good time to run a poll, especially now that the heat has been turned up on the defense.

Take a look to the left and you'll see our latest, which asks what Tom Coughlin should do with defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan. Vote, and then explain yourself right here. We'll leave it up until Monday so you have the time to formulate a well thought out answer.

Remember, vote early, vote often.

EP

Simple Stuff

Easiest report card of the year coming up here. Nobody did anything real well in that 26-6 loss to Denver, save for the two kickers Lawrence Tynes and Jeff Feagles.

Here are the grades.

QUARTERBACK: Eli Manning was 24 of 40 for 230 yards and two turnovers. He failed to engineer a touchdown drive at all, and did not lead his team to a score until the second half for the first time since 2006. One of his biggest problems might have been his reverting to the slow tempo that cost his team rhythm and opportunities during the losing streak. He didn't have much time back there, but when he did he often missed his receivers. GRADE: D.

RUNNING BACKS: Brandon Jacobs had little running room and carried just 11 timds for 27 yards. DJ Ware had a fumble, and the 57 total yards was the ground game's lowest production in three years. Jacobs also looked like the hesitant running back of the early season that couldn't make up his mind about which hole he wanted to go through. Things didn't get much better on the blocking game, as several blitz pickups were missed. GRADE: F.

RECEIVERS: Rookie Hakeem Nicks had a big play of 36 yards, and Mario Manningham made a nice sideline catch for a first down. Otherwise, nothing much here as nobody was able to get separation. A defensive scheme that occasionally dropped eight into coverage had them blanketed the whole game, and nobody made any adjustments to their routes to throw off the DBs. Kevin Boss was almost non-existant (thrown to twice) just a week after he served as a prime Red Zone target. GRADE: D.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Horrible. Just horrible. Even if Jacobs had barreled straight ahead on his runs, there was no hint of a hole to run through. The pass protection was awful as Manning was under attack much of the game. The heck of it was, the Denver defensive front is a light, finesse group that absolutely manhandled a unit that at one time prided itself on its physicality. David Diehl at left tackle was no match for Elvis Dumervil, who beat him for two sacks to extend his league-leading total to 14. Shaun O'Hara was pushed into the backfield constantly by the defensive tackles. Rookie Will Beatty went in as a blocking tight end after Darcy Johnson was injured and did little to speak of. The 57 yards rushing says it all. GRADE: F.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Nothing there, either. Mathias Kiwanuka was cut off at the edge by the quick zone blockers of the Broncos' front. Kyle Orton had all the time in the world to pick out his receivers. And the middle of the front was non-existant, as Fred Robbins, Barry Cofield, Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard neither stopped the run with any great efficiency or got any push up the middle to force Orton out of the pocket. Osi Umenyiora only noticeable contribution came on the sidelines as he yelled at Chase Blackburn. Otherwise, zero tackles, zero pressures, zero hits for him. Justin Tuck, with six tackles, a batted pass, and a tackle for a loss, looked like he was trying, but there is only so much he can do with one arm in a harness. GRADE: F.

LINEBACKERS: That monster game Michael Boley had against Atlanta? This one looked nothing like it. Tight end Tony Scheffler took him apart in coverage, and he failed to be a factor on the pass rush. Chase Blackburn missed some tackles, but still finished with eight, including one for a loss. Danny Clark was active and came up with the team's only sack. But the Broncos 138 ground yards and total control of the clock indicated that whatever contributions Clark and Blackburn made, they were way too few. GRADE: D.

SECONDARY: Mistakes, miscommunications, plain bad play all killed this unit. The safeties, whether it's Michael Johnson, Aaron Rouse, C.C. Brown, or Aaron Ross, might as well have stayed on the sidelines because they certainly weren't covering anybody. How else does one explain Brandon Stokley running free down the middle of the field for a 17-yard touchdown catch when the Giants were theoretically still in the game? Terrell Thomas had his team-high fourth interception of the year, but Corey Webster was victimized by two one-handed grabs by Brandon Marshall. The only reason the Broncos didn't have a 100-yard receiver was because they ran it 40 times. There was simply nothing to fear from this group. GRADE: F.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Lawrence Tynes hit a 52-yard field goal and made the end zone on one of his kickoffs. Jeff Feagles had a 50.2-yard average on five kicks, knocking three inside the 20. Yay! The rest? Meh! The kickoff coverage unit allowed a 42-yard return on that kick into the end zone, and Domenik Hixon was neither here nor there on kickoff and punt returns. GRADE: C.

COACHING: Real bad. Granted, it was a short week. But there should have been more adjustments just the same. The offensive staff had no answers for the Broncos' exotic alignments, and the defensive staff seemed defenseless against the run and befuddled when the pass rush turned to dust. An outright staff failure, starting from Tom Coughlin on down. GRADE: F.

Okay. Your turn.

EP

Friday, November 27, 2009

On Sheridan

Tom Coughlin has seen defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan's unit struggle and, ultimately, implode last night. But it sounds like the head coach has no plans to get any more involved with running the defense than he already is.

"Certainly, there are certain aspects that have to be corrected," Coughlin said. "Those are the things we talk about. Or we talk about personnel. It's a continuous thing.

"It's not an attempt after one game to become part of the defensive thinking."

At the same time, though, he made it clear he's certainly not pleased with the first-year coordinator.

"We have to play better," he said. "We have to be more physical. We certainly need to do a better job in that area."

The defense has struggled mightily toward the end of games and certainly throughout this last 1-5 stretch. The shutdown group of 2008 has turned as leaky as a cheap faucet, allowing an average of 35.5 points per game over the six games. Last night marked the fifth time this year the unit allowed more than 300 yards of total offense.

The entire middle of the defense, from the tackles to MLB Chase Blackburn, who missed several tackles last night, to safeties Aaron Rouse and Michael Johnson, has simply ceased to exist as running backs pound it and tight ends and slot receivers make all kinds of yardage through gaping holes.

The Brandon Stokley touchdown proved a case in point. Coughlin said a single mistake by a single player, probably Aaron Rouse, created a situation where Stokley could stroll unmolested into the end zone on a 17-yard completion.

"There isn't anybody, starting with me, that's satisfied with anything," he said. "There's no one individual at fault. It's a full team, and there's no one individual at fault here. We're doing this as a group, as a team, and as a coaching staff, and that's the way it'll always be."

Until Coughlin decides a change is needed. But that doesn't appear to be in the cards right now, at least.

EP

Injury updates

Just got off the conference call with Tom Coughlin. Here's the updated injuries.

S Michael Johnson (groin) will be observed and his availability for practice next week is undetermined. RB DJ (that's what we're calling him now) Ware had a concussion and has undergone several tests and is awaiting the results.

RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot and ankles) was inactive for the game, but appears to be doing better. Still, his practice availability will depend on how far he advances. WR Mario Manningham tweaked his shoulder but felt better. And Corey Webster, with a knee sprain, should be fine.

EP

Ten Days

Look at this as a mini-bye, since the Giants won't play again until next Sunday, at home, against Dallas.

So what will they be thinking about over the weekend? Probably this final five-game stretch where their entire season will be determined. With home games against division opponents Dallas and Philadelphia, and an away game in Washington, two or three wins would put them right back in the thick of the NFC East race. Sweeping the season series against Dallas would give them a tiebreaker to go along with the conference tiebreaker they already hold over Atlanta.

Now, once they get back on Monday, they'll have their focus fully on the Cowboys. But until then, a bunch of them will be contemplating these three games as an entity. And they should.

"It's good to know you have control over what happens," defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. "We win these next three games, we'll be in a great spot in the division. We have an opportunity. We have the schedule set up the way we want it. You get to control what happens. You get that challenge. It's obviously a stretch of games that can make or break you.

"We have to look at it as a plus. If we take advantage of it, we'll be in a good spot in spite of all the ups and downs of our year. That's the mindset we have to have."

Center Shaun O'Hara talked about mindset immediately after the game. Only he accused some of his teammates about not taking their situation seriously enough. That had Cofield irked. But O'Hara didn't back off.

"I think guys need to find a way to step it up a notch," O'Hara said. "When you make a blanket statement like that, it's probably going to pertain to three to five guys. There's guys out there fighting their tails off and doing everything they can to win a game.

"But in a team sport like this, a game can be lost by one player not doing his job on offense. Everyone's counting on each other. So at this point of the season, everyone needs to dial it up a little bit. Do a little bit more. Be a pro about everything. You have to be much more aware mentally of what's going on."

The Giants have had a minimum of finger-pointing during the tougher times of the Tom Coughlin era, particularly beginning in 2007 when Coughlin's transformation to more of a player's coach included the formation of the leadership council, of which O'Hara is a member. So it was a bit odd to hear him call out any teammate, be he named or unnamed.

Defensive end Osi Umenyiora didn't even wait for the end of the game to have his say. He was caught on camera blasting middle linebacker Chase Blackburn.

But O'Hara said the locker room remained solid following the loss.

"I'm sorry to disappoint you guys, but we're not worried about any fracture or any divide in the locker room," O'Hara said. "This is a tough team, physically and mentally. In the NFL, you don't always get what you want, or even what you deserve. We're 6-5 right now, and we're not looking for any sympathy.

"This is our season. Everybody on this team is gonna fight. There are no losers on this team, and there's nobody on this team who's going to hang his head and say 'Woe is me.' We have a lot of guys who put a lot of stock into what we do every week, and I don't expect any change from that standpoint. You have to deal with the results of that game, win or lose, before we start studying for Dallas Monday. Until then, we just have to eat that bullet."

O'Hara undoubtedly will be thinking about the upcoming stretch over the weekend.

"That's why you can't get down on yourself. When you look at what we have in front of us, we have Dallas coming into our house. They're in first place in our division. You can't ask for any other opportunity than that. We play all three of our divisional opponents down the stretch.

"We have opportunities. It's up to us, as men, to make the most of those."

EP

The Offensive Lobby


Not that Shaun O'Hara has any more influence with Kevin Gilbride than any other player outside of Eli Manning, but he knows what he'd suggest to him to get the Giants' offense going after last night's debacle.
More running.

That's saying something, considering the way the offensive line got manhandled by a Denver defensive front that relies more on finesse than brute force. But O'Hara was right in that a cumulative 57-yard effort, the lowest rushing total since 2006, is not going to get them anywhere in the remaining schedule.

So, like, if the coaching staff puts out a suggestion box, O'Hara might fill it by himself.

"The only way in my eyes to get back on track is to keep doing it, and do it more," O'Hara said a few minutes ago in a conference call. "As offensive linemen, we're always going to complain we're not running the football enough. That's our MO. We want to run the ball more.

"I'm not going to be happy until we have 35 to 40 carries in a game."

They haven 't reached those lofty numbers since their 41-carry, 220-yard rushing effort against Oakland, six games ago. Only three times has the backfield had as many as 35 carries.

And now, there exists a legitimate question on whether the Giants are capable at all of generating such an offense against Dallas, Philadelphia, Washington, Carolina, or Minnesota. Generally, they have followed the league's pass-first trend, setting up the run with the throw. And lately, specifically during the last six games, they've had trouble generating ground yards on the early downs, forcing Eli Manning into the air.

Of the 10 first-down runs the Giants had last night, one was fumbled, three went for minus yardage, and four others went for three yards or less. Only two were five yards or longer.

O'Hara, still smarting from such a devestating loss, couldn't explain the grounding of the ground game.

"I can't put a finger on why," O'Hara said. "If we knew, we'd have fixed it. I'm sure there are a lot of factors that have gone into it.

"There are certain times we can execute better. Certain defenses are keying in on the run, and I'm sure they feel that's one way to try to beat us, to slow us down in the running game. If they can do that early on, maybe that frustrates us and we shy away from it. I don't know."

It wasn't hard to figure out who he was directing his comments to. And it wasn't the folks on the other end of the phone with the notebooks and voice recorders.

"It's something where we need to just make sure we start fast and run the ball effectively right at the beginning so we have confidence in ourselves that we're not going to stray away from it.

"We have to be effective at the outset of the game to give confidence to ourselves, not just the unit that's blocking, but for the running backs as well, and certainly for the coaches. We're a much better team when we go out there and get into rhythm. That's how we've won games around here, when we go out and put our best foot forward."

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Game 11 Summary

I promised you a complete summary of whatever that was last night, so here it is. But first, I want to ask you guys a question that was asked of me on the Giants Gameday show, which you can see tomorrow night on NBC.
Given everything that's happening and taking into account the upcoming schedule, where do you see the Giants finishing. I said 9-7, with a definite shot at a wildcard spot. But that's just me. Am I a dreamer? A nutcase? A realist? I'm curious to read what you guys think. Give me a record and a reason.

Whatever your answers are, it's pretty obvious that if the Giants continue to play as they did last night, just getting a single win, let alone taking three of five, will be basically impossible.

Here's the summary. Oh, and by the way, here's the stats package from ESPN.com. And here's Mike Eisen's notes package from Giants.com.

BIG PLAYS:

The epitome of this game came early, on a second-quarter fourth-and-5 from the Giants' 29, the Broncos ahead 3-0. Under most circumstances, Denver probably would have sent Matt Prater out for a field goal. Instead, coach Josh McDaniels ordered up a pass play, on which tight end Tony Scheffler gained 21 yards. The ultimate result was a field goal and a 6-0 lead -- a mere pin prick compared to what could have been. But the Broncos knew right then and there that the Giants' defense couldn't stop them, and the Giants never did anything about it.

Danny Ware had the ball stripped in the second quarter at the Giants' 38 by linebacker Mario Hagan, validating the coach's main concern about how well Ware could secure the ball after missing the first six games with a dislocated elbow. The turnover resulted in a touchdown and a 13-0 lead.

Up 16-6 in the fourth quarter, Kyle Orton found wide receiver Brandon Stokley wide open in the middle with nary a safety within six yards of him. Stokley took the pass and waltzed into the end zone from 17 yards out for a 23-6 lead, sealing the game.

As Eli Manning made one, last try to get his team back into the game, Elvis Dumervil stormed around left tackle David Diehl forhis second sack, forcing a fumble and a recovery that led to a final field goal.

THE VETS:

Brandon Jacobs: He carried 11 times for 27 yards of a 57-yard team effort that went as the Giants' worst cumulative rushing performance in three years. He rarely found a hole and was often running side-to-side rather than downhill.

Eli Manning: The quarterback was unable to create the fast tempo that was so effective against Atlanta. When he looked downfield, he found no open receivers. Virtually every one of his completions was challenged or threaded, and he had a lost fumble and an interception.

Danny Ware: He had a lost fumble when the Giants trailed 6-0 and recorded 27 yards on four carries.

Terrell Thomas: His team-high fourth interception of the season was the only defensive bright spot.

Mario Manningham: He had five catches for 48 yards and showed his sideline awareness on a 13-yard catch on which he kept his inside foot an inch inbounds.

Michael Boley: Last week's NFC Defensive Player of the Week watched as Scheffler ran right past him for the 21-yard pass completion on fourth-and-5 in the second quarter.

Danny Clark: He had the only sack, which was also the only hit on Orton.

THE KIDS:

Hakeem Nicks: Add another big play to Nicks' resume, this one a 36-yarder on the final, non-scoring drive.

THE UGLY STUFF:

The whole game. No offense, no defense, and when Lawrence Tynes finally put a kickoff into the end zone, the coverage unit allowed Correll Buckhalter to return it 42 yards. Call it a complete no-show.

THE BUMPS:

CB Corey Webster went out with a left knee injury in the second quarter and returned.

RB Danny Ware had a concussion in the third quarter and did not return.

S Michael Johnson had a groin injury in the second quarter and did not return.

EP

The Great Train Wreck

Hate to do this to you guys after something like last night, but here are the lowlights to the 26-6 loss to the Broncos. Double-clicks to everybody who makes it through to the end.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Well, That's It For Now

Unless the Giants' world comes crashing down in the next few hours, we're done until Friday.

I want to wish everybody a Happy Thanksgiving. May your turkey be moist, your loved ones be well, and all your bets come in.

EP

Boss On The Bossman

Here's a clip of a great question by my buddy, Joe Lapointe of the Times, to rough-and-tumble tight end Kevin Boss. The Bossman, who now has more bruises than a pinata at a six-year-old's birthday party, gave an honest answer.

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Here's another bit of honesty. If the Giants expect to win games from here on out, Boss has got to become one of the prime receiving targets for Eli Manning. He's too good a receiver not to be. Absent a Plaxico Burress in the end zone, Boss seems like the next best thing in there. He went a long way in proving that last week when he grabbed two touchdown passes and was targeted in a third throw to the end zone.

His four touchdown catches are now tied for second on the team with Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks, one behind leader Steve Smith.
Fullback Madison Hedgecock has the only other touchdown catch on the team, and that came against Atlanta.

As long as Boss is healthy -- who knows how long that'll be considering the punishment he's already survived -- he needs to remain a major target. And I think we can stop all the talk about wanting to get Travis Beckum more involved. Until the coaches understand that that nebulous H-back spot is impeding his progress, Beckum should have little place in the offense at this point.

It's all Boss from here on in.

Agree?

EP

Get Ready For Danny!

The Giants' final pre-game injury report is out. RB Ahmad Bradshaw (ankles and foot) has been declared out along with LB Antonio Pierce. QB Eli Manning (foot) will play, of course.

Bradshaw's injury means Danny Ware will get all of Bradshaw's snaps. In fact, if Brandon Jacobs' left leg, which was bruised last week, doesn't hold up Ware could become the featured ballcarrier. Expect Gartrell Johnson to get some work, too, especially in the fourth quarter if the Giants are up.

EP

Some Housecleaning

Just wanted to give you guys a heads-up on the next couple of days so you'll have ample time to A) Protest; B) Cheer; C) Take out a contract on my life.

There will be no live-blogging of tomorrow night's game because I fully expect I'll wind up in some Tryptophan-induced coma by kickoff. I'll be taping it and watching it late, however. You'll get the usual summary on Friday around mid-day, along with all the usual follow-up stuff. I figure we'll run the report card for Saturday.

Why mid-day, you ask? Because (and you can listen yourself) I'll be joining Richard Neer on WFAN-660 AM at about 8:15 a.m. for a few minutes, after which I will be taping the reporter's segment of the Giants Gameday show, which will be shown over the weekend. So if you haven't gotten enough of me here, you can hear me with Richard and watch me argue with Bob Papa and Pat Hanlon.

We're not necessarily done for today. I just wanted to give you guys an early warning.

EP

Second Opinion

Not that it will make a difference for tomorrow night, but MLB Antonio Pierce went to Los Angeles today for an appointment with noted specialist Dr. Robert Watkins on his bulging neck disc.

It's probably unlikely he'll be on the sidelines tomorrow night in Denver.

EP

Game 11 Scouting Report

GIANTS (6-4) vs. DENVER BRONCOS (6-4)

THE TEAMS: The Giants come off a 34-31 overtime win against Atlanta that basically hinged on an incorrect coin flip call in overtime by Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Had he called heads and been right, a defense that failed to make a stop the entire second half probably would have given up the winning points to extend the Giants' losing streak to five games. Instead, Ryan called tails, and Eli Manning moved the team into field goal position, where Lawrence Tynes won it from 36 yards out. These Giants have never worked as short a week as this, and that could have an effect on how things go. The positive is that if there is a game in this final stretch that is expendable, it is this one because it's a non-conference game. Denver is much like the Giants in that the Broncos won their first six and have lost their last four. The offense under quarterback Kyle Orton is bad, but until last week's 32-3 shellacking by San Diego, the defense hadn't played poorly.

THE HISTORY: The most famous game of this series came in Super Bowl XXI, when Phil Simms led the Giants to a 39-20 win and took the game's MVP award. Other than that, it's been pretty even, the Giants holding a 5-4 advantage in regular season meetings. The last meeting came in 2005, a 24-23 Giants win. The last meeting in Denver, on opening day of the 2001 season, was a 39-20 Broncos victory. The Giants are 7-3-3 lifetime on Thanksgiving, but have played only three times on the holiday since 1938. They last played on Thanksgiving in 1992, when the Cowboys beat them 30-3 in Dallas. They are 12-5-3 in Thursday night games.

THE INJURIES: Giants -- LB Antonio Pierce (neck) is out. RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot and both ankles) is doubtful. QB Eli Manning (foot) is probable.

Broncos -- T Ryan Harris (toe) and RB Lamont Jordan (undisclosed) are questionable. S Brian Dawkins (neck) and QB Kyle Orton (ankle) are probable.

WATCH THIS: If the Giants have to work a super-short week, this is the team to do it against right now. The Broncos have imploded after a 6-0 start. They are in disarray, with players arguing among themselves on the sidelines and Josh McDaniels showing his immaturity with a "We own you" warning to the San Diego linebackers before the Chargers blew their doors off Sunday. The Broncos are so eminently beatable at this point that the oddsmakers picking the Giants as six-point favorites is no surprise at all.

That's saying a lot, since the Giants haven't exactly looked like Super Bowl contenders, either. The defense hasn't made a key second-half stop in two weeks. It has become a downright embarrassment in the fourth quarter to see the Chargers and Falcons, consecutively, make up fourth-quarter deficits with late touchdowns to either beat the Giants or send the game into overtime. Receivers have run free through the secondary. The pass rush loses its pop. And opposing quarterbacks are left free to exploit every part of the field. And all Tom Coughlin can do at this point is scratch his head. "People keep asking me for an answer," he said. "I wish I had an answer. If I had an answer, it would be the end of it. We have not been able to stop those consistent pass drives late in the game. Someone asked me about whether there was fatigue involved. I don’t see that at all. You are talking about 50 degrees at this time of year. I just don’t see that. We have given up some pass plays, obviously. We have given up some opportunities. When we could have gotten off the field, we didn’t. We had some third and longs that they converted, too." His remedy? "Keep working," he said.

If there's any bright spot in this, it's that Orton never really inspired confidence when healthy. And now that he's got a gimpy ankle, he would appear ripe for the taking. Orton is hittable, since he is not a truly mobile quarterback. So a pass rush that has recorded eight sacks in five games should be able to pressure him. Orton, with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions, tends toward the short passing game. None of his main receivers -- Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal, Jabar Gaffney, and tight end Tony Scheffler, average more than Gaffney's 13.3 yards per catch. The Broncos have had just 23 passes of 20 yards or more. Only four of those plays have produced touchdowns.

Getting comfortable in that knowlege would be a mistake for the Giants, however. They're stopping the run well enough, but a combination of running back Knowshon Moreno (142 carries for 600 yards and two touchdowns), Correll Buckhalter (73 for 399), and the short passing game could limit the time Eli Manning has to work with. Besides, once the Broncos get inside the 20, anything can happen. They only have four rushing touchdowns, but the Giants have the worst Red Zone defense in the league. And they come off a game where a backup running back in Jason Snelling ran virtually untouched through the middle for a score. "They certainly have had their struggles the last couple of years in the red zone," Orton said. "So we are hoping to get down there quite a few times and give us our best chance. They seem like they have played some great defense in between the 20s and then they kind of get down there and struggle a little bit. We are looking to certainly score some touchdowns when we get down there. "

If anything, the Giants will need Fred Robbins and Barry Cofield to create a presence in the middle the Giants have lacked recently. An effective blitz wouldn't hurt, either. Last week, the blitz got to Ryan a click too late, allowing him to complete key fourth-quarter passes. If Chase Blackburn or Michael Boley don't get to Orton, the quarterback could hurt them with quick throws to Moreno and Scheffler. Justin Tuck continues to play like a Pro Bowl defensive end, and he had a strip-sack against Atlanta. But the defense needs to get more than a couple of plays out of Osi Umenyiora on the other side if they expect to get consistent frontal pressure.

They'll need to turn things around defensively, because the injury bug has hit the offense and left it in questionable shape. Ahmad Bradshaw, now with a sprained left ankle to go with a right ankle sprain and a broken right fifth metatarsal, might not even make the trip, let alone take his 10 carries behind Brandon Jacobs. Jacobs had to come out of Sunday's game in the third quarter after getting hit in the thigh, and he may still be tender. So Danny Ware may have to carry the bulk of the rushing duties, something he's never before done. That alone makes it an iffy proposition. On the other hand, the Broncos' once-fearsome run defense has fallen on hard times, having given up an average of 168 yards on the ground to the last four opponents. San Diego hit them for 203 last week, so trying to establish the run early would be a wise thing for offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.

Consider, too, that the Giants are not used to playing in high altitude stadiums. If Manning cranks the tempo, as he did successfully against the Falcons, long-range sprinters like Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham could find themselves huffing and puffing midway through drives. Better that Manning stick with the short passing game again, making generous use of Kevin Boss' sure hands and toughness, and Steve Smith's consistency, to control things against the third-best pass defense in the league. The secondary, with seven interceptions, has experience in Champ Bailey at left cornerback and former Philadelphia hitman Brian Dawkins at safety. Dawkins is hurting, but he's expected to play.
The teams are close in takeaway/giveaway differential, the Giants being plus-2, the Broncos even.
Denver has a clear advantage in special teams. Although Lawrence Tynes continues to lead the league in scoring with 92 points, Denver's Matt Prater has him in the kickoff department. Prater has 11 touchbacks, ninth most in the league, while Tynes has just six among his liners, squibbers, and mortared kicks. Eddie Royal is the league's sixth-best punt returner with an 11.6-yard average, so Feagles will have to figure out again how to keep it away from him and get considerable length on his punts. He hasn't found the answer yet, as his 39.4-yard gross on 39 punts ranks him last in the league. The net, 35.6, is 30th ranked.
PREDICTION: The Giants need to get on a roll, but at this point the Broncos are the more desperate team. That's a dangerous thing, especially after the Giants travel halfway across the country to play in a prime time game in a tough stadium. Still, the Broncos are in such deep trouble that the Giants should win this. It'll be close and fairly low-scoring as field position and the kickers' legs will dictate the outcome. Giants 17-14.
EP

It's Friday! Oops, Nope, It's Wednesday!

But we've still got our Q&A swap with Big Blue View's Ed Valentine. The schedule has forced us into some drastic measures here. But we're a flexible bunch and I think we'll survive moving up the Q&A to Wednesday. Then again, I'm an optimist.

Be sure to check out my answers at Ed's blog at http://www.bigblueview.com/.

1. So, you ready to launch Lawrence Tynes yet, or at least after Thanksgiving?

"I WAS ready to launch Tynes after the early miss. I just don't get how a veteran kicker can miss so many easy ones. Then, as he always seems to, he went and made the kick the Giants absolutely had to have. So, I can't crucify him. One of these days Tynes will miss a clutch kick and he will be absolutely killed by the fans. His kickoffs are terrible, worse than I thought, and I don't understand the inconsistency. If the Giants happen to fall out of the playoff picture it might be worthwhile to let Tynes go and bring in a young guy. At the very least, I think you have to bring in real competition for the guy next pre-season."

2. Did the Giants turn the corner with their overtime win against Atlanta?

"I would like to think so, but I'm not ready to go there yet. Heading to Denver for a short week like this is brutal, but it is a very winnable game with the Broncos pretty much imploding, and it is a game the Giants absolutely have to win. If they do that, then maybe I will say they have turned a corner. Not yet."

3. Though Chase Blackburn did a credible job filling in for Antonio Pierce at MLB, is he a long-term answer there?

"I love Blackburn, but I am not convinced. I saw him get physically dominated too many times while playing the middle in pre-season. I do think it is very possible that someone other than Pierce will be playing the middle in 2010. I would not be shocked, though, if that someone turns out to be Jonathan Goff. Or, someone not on the roster right now."

4. Now that Aaron Ross has taken some playing time at safety, would you start him there?

"Not yet. I actually think Aaron RouseRoss combines to make a pretty good safety. Rouse is pretty active in the run game, provided he doesn't overrun plays. Ross is probably better in pass coverage, so I think there is a way to work both into the mix. To tell the truth, the safety I worry about the most these days in Michael Johnson. The Giants like to use him as a hybrid linebacker in the nickel, and that scares me because he seems to whiff or run himself out of position too often in run support. And, at best, he is a so-so pass defender. Long-term, I think Johnson might end up the odd man out in the safety picture."


What do you think?


EP

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Boley's Award

Weakside linebacker Michael Boley won the NFC Defensive Player of the Week award today for his 13-tackle effort against his old team, the Falcons.

Boley had a sack, two tackles behind the line, and two hits on Matt Ryan. He also undoubtedly got plenty of votes from the commenters on this blog, who wasted no time in calling me out for underrating his performance Sunday.

Guess they were right. I still think he should have knocked down that game-tying touchdown pass to Gonzalez.

So there!

EP

Denver? Giants? The Same?

The 6-4 records aren't the only similarities between the Giants and Broncos. They got there in almost the same way, the Broncos winning their first six and dropping their last four and the Giants winning their first five and dropping four before squeaking past the Falcons this past weekend.

Similar to the Giants during their losing streak, the Broncos also look like they couldn't beat a good high school team right now. But as the Giants taught us last week, beware. Things can turn on a dime in this league, and this week's chumps may turn into next week's Supermen. Even if you have Kyle Orton as your quarterback.

Justin Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka, and Osi Umenyiora know that. And they offer that lesson in this video presentation.


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One personnel note: The Giants added DB Anthony Scirroto to their practice squad after Jacksonville signed DB Michael Coe off that unit. The 6-0, 202-pound Scirroto was signed as an undrafted rookie May 1 by the Panthers and was waived July 27, and had worked out for the Giants earlier this month.

EP

Another Issue

Just got back from talking to Tom Coughlin, and it looks like RB Ahmad Bradshaw has another ankle issue. This time it's his left ankle, incurred at some point in the second half Sunday.

Coughlin wasn't sure whether Bradshaw would even make the trip to Denver. But he did say Jacobs' backup wouldn't be practicing today. He'll wear a boot, just like he did since early season on the right one.

Coughlin said they knew Bradshaw had sprained the ankle during the game. But the severity of it was a surprise.

"Right after the game, they thought it was an ankle sprain," Coughlin said. "But now it's more severe than that."

Coughlin said that if Bradshaw can't go, Danny Ware is ready and raring to take his carries. Chances are, Gartrell Johnson will be activated as the third running back. But Coughlin was confident Ware would be up to the task, given his key 13-yard run Sunday and a great blitz pickup.

"He did well," Coughlin said. "He's ready."

Now, the question is whether Bradshaw will be ready. If he's not, and if Jacobs re-injures the left knee that forced him out of Sunday's game, Ware will have to take the bulk of the carries.

EP

EP

Jacobs Feeling Fine

Brandon Jacobs indicated he feels fine after taking a full practice Monday. You'll remember that the running back came out of the game in the third quarter after taking a shot on the knee, and did not return. But he said that was more the medical staff's decision than his.

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We've been saying this forever on this blog, but the Giants could use a major dose of Jacobs in this one. For one thing, that mile-high altitude could created problems for the sprinting wide receivers if Eli Manning continues to crank up the overall tempo, which he certainly should.

Also, a Denver defense that started the season as one of the most dominant units agains the run has crashed and burned. The Broncos have let up an average of 168.8 rushing yards over their last four games after keeping teams to double figures rushing in the first six. San Diego hung up 203 yards against them Sunday.

Not coincidentally, they've lost the last four.

This might be the ideal time to get Jacobs his 20 carries. He might have come close against Atlanta had he not been injured, a hazard Jacobs has become oh, so familiar with in his career. The coaches tried to avoid by not overusing him in the early season, but Jacobs' upright style, especially when running wide, leaves him open to upper leg pops like the one he took Sunday.

"We still could be playing a little bit better," Jacobs said. "Throughout our six wins, we still haven’t played as good of football as we can play. We can be a tad bit better, and we are going to have to be going in against a good Denver team who started off the season at a solid 6-0. They beat some really good teams. A short week, we’ve got to go and be focused and do our preparation and do everything right."

EP

Tynes Going Long

The thin air of Denver may be a concern to the coaches and the skill position players. But to Lawrence Tynes, it could be a blessing.

Hey, he might even get the ball to the goal line. As this video shows, he expects to get five to eight yards longer on his kickoffs and field goals. And he speaks from experience, too, as he kicked there three times, for 2004-06, as AFC West divisional foe Kansas City's kicker.

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He could use a few good kicks right now. Tom Coughlin's patience has got to be wearing thin with his short-range misses and his failure to get the ball into or, at least near the goal line on kickoffs. He blamed his 31-yard miss against Atlanta on holder Jeff Feagles' ball placement and the fact that he didn't keep his head down on it through the full swing.

"I know what I did wrong," Tynes said. "I'm going to fix it."

Replacing him this week was not an option because of the abnormally short span between games. It's safe to say that he's on a week-to-week basis now. But if Tynes blows another Thursday, Coughlin will have nine days before the next game to mull over a switch. And if that miss costs them a game, as his wide left nearly did Sunday, he may well be out by the time the team boards the plane back home Thursday night.

He's now 21-of-26 in field goals, including two misses in each of the 20-to-29 and 30-to-39-yard ranges. And he's missed two of his last six.

EP

Flip-Flopping Around

Different schedule for today. First of all, it's Tuesday, which is usually the coaches' gameplan day and the players' day off. As you can see, we're out here, along with the whole team.

The coaches got a lot of their gameplanning done during the bye week, using the time to get a jump on the Broncos' previous games. By late yesterday morning, they had the film of Denver's horrendous loss to San Diego in their hot little hands, and they'll finalize the gameplanning today before they take the players out for a 4 p.m. practice. Should be fairly easy. If Kyle Orton is in there despite a sprained ankle, pressure him. If Chris Simms is in there, take the night off.

Too harsh? Sorry.

Anyway, the locker room opens up in a bit, and I'll get back to you later.

EP

Monday, November 23, 2009

Mile High City

The way the defense ran out of gas at sea level Sunday, it makes you think about what could lie in store Thursday night in the mile-high altitude of Denver.

Now, look, it's not like the Giants are going to be playing at the summit of Everest. But there is a difference between playing in Denver, altitude 5,280 feet, and the Meadowlands. The air is a bit thinner. And heaven forbid, if the game is close at all in the fourth quarter and the Broncos start up with a no-huddle offense, it makes you wonder whether this struggling defense will have the stamina to keep up.

Tom Coughlin was confident today that his team could stand up to the environmental factors, and said the medical staff will take measures to make sure of it.

"There is always the thought of that and there have been a few incidents of players that have had difficult times with that from previous conditions," Coughlin said. "I have asked (VP of Medical Services) Ronnie Barnes to work up a procedure for us to relate to the players. Hydration, lots of rest, no alcohol, that type of thing.

"We will have stuff on the sideline. Oxygen on the sideline. I have personally been involved in coaching teams that have played there in the past and we never had a real issue."

Eli Manning didn't expect a major issue. He raised the tempo against Atlanta, and will probably try to maintain the quick-paced game against a Broncos defense that San Diego whacked for 32 points.

"I don’t think you can be concerned with it," Manning said. "You just have to go out there and see if there is a difference. And I don’t think you can be thinking about it while you are playing. You just have to go out there and just go play. There is not a whole lot that you can take in to factor once you are out there on the field."

By the looks it, the Giants' defense could have used a whiff of good old O2 or ammonia in the fourth quarter as the pass rush fizzled and the coverage waned. The altitude of Denver would appear just an additional worry.

The Giants lost their last two meetings out there, 31-20 in 2001 and 27-13 in 1992. But that was more a function of teams that ultimately finished 7-9 and 6-10. And most of those losses came around sea level. So Coughlin is probably more preoccupied with the types of defenses Bill Sheridan is calling than anything atmospherically.

Whatever Sheridan ordered in the fourth quarter, it didn't work.

"Some how, some way, there were enough opportunities to make plays to stop the drive or at least create a long fourth down situation," Coughlin said of the final stretch of regulation, where the Falcons scored two touchdowns in the last six minutes to send the game into overtime. "We weren’t able to do that. There are obvious concerns there.

"We have played back to back teams that get the ball out really quick. They do a good job of that. I think in some situations it’s a matter of our guys were in the right place; they just didn’t make the play on the ball. Those things are being discussed and shored up. Hopefully we can do a better job of that."

Coughlin hinted that the overall scheme could be a problem, too. But the players also have to take it upon themselves to, as Coughlin often says, play above the Xs and Os."

"Well, there is still a lot to be done," Coughlin said. "I don’t know if you separate that out. Scheme, yes, but within the scheme you would hope there is a comfort level where the player is in position to be able to make some plays from his alignment spot."

If that doesn't happen, it won't matter if the 6-4 Giants play at the bottom of a mine or on the moon. They'll remain a team in trouble.

EP

Cross The Fingers

The Giants are reporting that no new injuries came out of the Falcons game. So the injury list will remain: QB Eli Manning (foot), RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot and ankle), and LB Antonio Pierce (neck).

Just keep your fingers crossed. If last week's Pierce saga taught anything, it is that these injury things can change at a moment's notice. I'll be interested to see how much Brandon Jacobs practices tomorrow, for instance, given that he came out of the game with a third-quarter knee injury and did not return.

Coughlin reported that Jacobs was "fine" today.

While we're at it, here's a question about a recent returner. Now that Aaron Ross has gotten his feet wet at safety, would you start him there against Denver. If so, who would you replace, Aaron Rouse or Michael Johnson. Just wondering.

EP

Not Exactly Dean's List Material

We've got a condensed week going here, with only one real workday before the Denver game on Thanksgiving night. So we have to be a little flexible. You're getting the report card today instead of tomorrow, so that tomorrow we can jump right into those fearsome (not so much, maybe) Broncos.

You'll see that the grades are a real mixed bag. Some good, some very good, and others pretty bad. In all, a winning report card, but certainly nothing like what they're seeing in say, oh, Indy or New England, or Minnesota. And that's appropriate, considering the Giants basically had to beat Atlanta on the basis of Matt Ryan's bad call of the overtime coin flip.

That'll teach him to call tails.

Here are the grades.

QUARTERBACK: Eli Manning threw a first-possession interception two plays after a sack and a fumble, and nearly threw another the second time around. But he settled down nicely after that and went 25-of-39 for a career high 384 yards and three touchdowns. He spread the ball around, hitting eight receivers. But most important was his use of Kevin Boss, who has become a real and needed threat in the Red Zone. For the first time in more than a month, Manning looked good working the deep sideline. He hit seven throws of 20 yards or more, including a perfectly-thrown 51-yarder to Steve Smith and a key 29-yarder to Mario Manningham that set up the winning field goal. GRADE: A.

RUNNING BACKS: Brandon Jacobs jumped on that Manning fumble and ran in a touchdown, but otherwise the ground game was underused again. That's not entirely his fault, as he came out of the game in the third quarter with a thigh injury. Still, they could have used Ahmad Bradshaw to pick up the slack, but it didn't really happen. The sum total was 26 carries for 88 yards and a touchdown, with Jacobs accounting for only 12 carries for 39 yards. A huge part of the problem came on first down, where eight of their runs on first down netted them gains of three yards or less, or outright losses. GRADE: C.

RECEIVERS: Can't say enough about these guys this week. Manning found eight of them, and even stone-handed fullback Madison Hedgecock got into the act with two catches, including a three-yard touchdown catch on a sweet route toward the sideline. Kevin Boss looked like an absolute monster after a season of underuse as a pass catcher as he made five catches for 76 yards and two touchdowns, including a very tough four-yard scoring catch with two defenders around him in the end zone. Manningham looked a lot like Amani Toomer with his sideline work and finished with six catches for 126 yards. Smith laid out for Manning's 51-yard heave and reeled it in like Hemingway hooking a marlin. Hakeem Nicks had a 30-yard completion, but his biggest was the seven-yarder for a first down on the winning field goal drive. The routes were clean, and the separation was just enough to allow Manning to fit the balls into tight spots. GRADE: A.

OFFENSIVE LINE: You have to blame some of the running problems on their lack of overall push. Manning did see some early pressure, but they settled down later. The quarterback never had all day to search out his receivers, but he did have just enough time to make things happen. He was only hit twice, and sacked once. GRADE: B.

DEFENSIVE LINE: If anyone sees Fred Robbins, Barry Cofield, Chris Canty, and Rocky Bernard, tell them to check in with Tom Coughlin. It's a contract requirement that they play in actual games when they can. That quartet was basically invisible, save for Cofield's late hit on Jason Snelling that set up Jason Elam's unsuccessful field goal attempt. No pressure up the middle, and Snelling made decent yards between the tackles. They were especially exposes on Snelling's first of two touchdown runs, when he started left, cut back right, and went untouched into the end zone. At least the ends did something. Justin Tuck had four tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble, and Osi Umenyiora had a fumble recovery to go along with two quarterback hits. Mathias Kiwanuka had two hits on Ryan and a pass breakup. But the effort was hardly consistent. The pressure hardly got there in the second half. The whole line seemed to run out of gas under Ryan's fast-paced execution. Their inability to at least pressure Ryan into premature throws the whole second half and make a couple of run stops on third-and-1 in the fourth quarter allowed the Falcons to continue exhausting scoring drives of 18, 12, and 12 plays as they stormed back to tie in regulation. GRADE: D.

LINEBACKERS: Michael Boley played a great game with a team-high 13 tackles, a sack, two quarterback hits, and two tackles for losses. But he was right there on Tony Gonzalez' tying touchdown and should have knocked down that end zone throw. Chase Blackburn had seven tackles, including one behind the line, in a good, last-minute performance in place of injured MLB Antonio Pierce. And Danny Clark had five tackles. That's the good news. The bad news is that the Giants blitzed quite a bit, and all but one of them were held up enough to let Ryan get off his passes. At times, the blitzing linebackers got there a click too late. At others, they weren't even close. GRADE: C.

SECONDARY: It was truly amazing how wide open Atlanta's receivers were in the fourth quarter as the Falcons came back from two touchdowns down. Forget about interrupting the flow with an interception. The defensive backs weren't even close enough to stop receivers from making yards after the catch. Eric Weems was wide open against rookie Bruce Johnson on his four-yard touchdown catch that narrowed the gap to 31-24. Michael Jenkins and Roddy White both caught 20-plus-yard passes down the stretch. Safety Aaron Rouse came up with a horrendous late hit on the third-quarter field goal drive. Aaron Ross did okay at safety in his first action of the season with four tackles. As the defensive line lacked pressure in crunch time, the secondary lacked coverage, and it nearly cost the Giants a game. GRADE: F.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Lawrence Tynes is going to make Coughlin lose what's left of his hair with his inconsistency. Another miss, this one from 31 yards, followed by overtime heroics on his 36-yard make that, were it two yards longer, would have sailed wide right. His worst performance came on the kickoffs, however, as Atlanta got consistent field position at the 35, 40, 37, and 35 that resulted in three touchdowns and a missed field goal. The kickoff coverage unit didn't help Tynes, either. Domenik Hixon looked better than he has in recent weeks, and came within a shoestring tackle of breaking a kickoff return for a touchdown. Jeff Feagles' punting was improved on three kicks for a 41-yard average, but the coverage allowed Weems a 17-yard return. GRADE: D.

COACHING: Have to hand it to Coughlin. He kept his team's heads together during the bye week when the collective psyche could have spiraled into despair. He obviously got on his coordinators, too, though only one seemed to absorb the message completely. Kevin Gilbride found out that amazing things can happen when you let your quarterback throw the ball into the end zone once inside the Red Zone. The offense had four trips there before the overtime and came away with three touchdowns and a missed field goal. It would have had four TDs if Manning had thrown to an open Hakeem Nicks on the sideline instead of a double-covered Boss. For once, this writer had no issues with the Red Zone playcalling. Still, when the Giants were still up by a touchdown with 5:53 remaining in regulation and they needed to run the clock down, what was called after the Giants got to their 41? A first-down pass, second-down run, third-down pass. Total runoff of the five-play drive: 2:09. The defense? That's another story. The worst Red Zone defense in the league continued as such, allowing four touchdowns and a field goal on six trips there. He dialed up plenty of blitzes, but most never got there. Judging by the number of open receivers in the second half, one must conclude the coverage schemes were flawed. The entire defense seemed to run out of gas, and even Antonio Pierce's emotional sideline pleas couldn't get them going. GRADE: C.

Issues, anybody?

EP

Highlights Monday

Well, it's been a long time since you guys have had some happy highlights to sweeten your morning coffee. Here's a chunk of them to take into the day.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Stats

Just thought I'd make the postgame stats available to you guys. Here they are, courtesy of NFL.com. And here's the game notes from Mike Eisen at Giants.com.

Also, after further review -- and a little nudge from a commenter -- I may have shortchanged Michael Boley on the game he had. I still stand by my statement that he should have knocked down the game-tying touchdown throw to Tony Gonzalez. But he did lead the team in tackles with 13, and he had a sack, two tackles for losses, and two quarterback hits. So, like, good job Michael. I'm sure he'll sleep better tonight knowing I've changed my mind about him.

Also, someone commented that they saw Diehl return to the game. I didn't notice that, but I'll take your word for it until I can get confirmation through a tape or something.

EP

Game 10 Summary

So the Giants got away with one, 34-31 in overtime, to go 6-4 and perhaps save their season.

Along the way, Eli Manning threw for 384 yards and three touchdowns, his first 300-yard passing game at Giants Stadium. He hit eight receivers, including Kevin Boss for two of the three touchdowns. So the offense did just fine.

The same can't be said of the defense, which squandered a two-touchdown lead in the final six minutes of regulation to force an heroic finish on Lawrence Tynes, who had his own problems with a field goal miss and some horrible kickoffs. But Tynes wound up hitting a 36-yarder for the victory to break that nasty four-game losing streak.

"It's been 42 days since we last won," Manning said. "And it felt like it, too. It was a much-needed win, and we worked hard for it the last two weeks."

Now they head into Denver for a Thanksgiving night matchup in a short, short work week. In fact, they'll only practice heavily on Tuesday before leaving Wednesday morning for Mile High City. But at least they'll go into it with a good feeling and a 6-4 record, good to remain in second in the NFC East race, with a conference tiebreaker secured over wildcard hopeful Atlanta.

THE BIG PLAYS:

Lawrence Tynes' 36-yard field goal with 11:06 left in OT was the game-winner, of course. But it wouldn't have happened if Mario Manningham hadn't caught a 29-yard sideline throw from Manning on first down from the Giants' 48 to get it within field goal range. Manningham caught it off his back shoulder and kept his bearings in-bounds before safety Erik Coleman pushed him out.

Tight end Kevin Boss' leaping 18-yard catch down the middle seam to the 3 set up seldom-thrown-to fullback Madison Hedgecock's three-yard touchdown catch that gave the Giants a 31-17 lead with 12:08 left in regulation.

That 14-point lead should have allowed the Giants to salt away the game. But the defense was unable to stop the fast-tempo of the Falcons, and the lead finally vanished as Tony Gonzalez, who finished with eight catches for 82 yards, grabbed his only touchdown catch of the game between linebacker Michael Boley and safety Michael Johnson in the back of the end zone with 28 seconds left on the clock.

Steve Smith's diving 51-yard catch in the third quarter got the ball to the Atlanta 23, and set up Brandon Jacobs' 2-yard run for a touchdown and a 24-14 lead. Smith also drew a pass interference call in the end zone on the same drive.

Tynes may have been the hero, but he also missed a 31-yarder wide left in the second quarter that ultimately might have lost them the game. "I knew that was going to haunt us, even though we went up by 14," Tynes said. "I knew I had to make amends."

THE VETS:

Kevin Boss: They're finally using him as a legitimate Red Zone target. His two scores, the first from 28 yards out and the second from four yards, marked his first career multiple-touchdown game. But just as important was that Eli Manning targeted him eight times, and he caught five of those for 76 yards, including four that either went into the end zone or deep inside the 20. Boss made an outstanding play on his 28-yard touchdown catch, getting the ball a step outside the sideline, keeping his balance, and pivoting left into an open field for the final 10 yards. "I ran a deep flag out there and when I caught the ball I saw I was pretty close," he said. "I knew that I was going to do everything I could to get into that end zone."

Eli Manning: He was accurate again in going 25-of-39, and deserved to win in regulation. He did throw an interception early, but it did no harm. Have to question a few of his late passes, though, as a couple came close to being intercepted.

Mario Manningham: He had several great catches to go with a six-catch, 126-yard day. His 27-yard catch on a third-and-1 shot in the fourth quarter was the primary positioning play for the Hedgecock touchdown in the fourth quarter.

JUSTIN TUCK: The defensive end continues to play like a Pro Bowler, making four tackles and getting one of the Giants' two sacks on Matt Ryan, causing a fumble that Osi Umenyiora recovered.

Michael Boley: He finished with a team-high 13 tackles, but should have been able to break up Tony Gonzalez' game-tying touchdown with 28 seconds to go.

Chase Blackburn: The linebacker was thrown into the middle at the last minute when Antonio Pierce was lost, possibly for the rest of the season, with a bulging neck disk. He had a couple of good blitzes, and he finished with seven tackles, including one behind the line of scrimmage. "It was tough to throw a guy in there like that, but Chase did a good job," Tuck said.

Aaron Ross: He took his first action of the season, playing safety in the passing down defense and finished with four tackles. "It felt great to be back," Ross said. "I felt really comfortable back there. I still have to learn a lot of techniques at the safety position, but I'll play wherever they want me to play, wherever they need me."

THE KIDS:

Hakeem Nicks: He continues to make big catches, though his highlight was actually a seven-yarder on third-and-2 that kept the Giants' winning overtime drive going. That came just before Manningham's 29-yard catch to the 23. He added a 30-yarder to go with a five-catch, 65-yard day.

THE UGLY STUFF:

We know all about Tynes' "Now you see it, now you don't" field goal consistency. But he had some horrendous kickoffs, too. The Falcons got field position at the 40, 37, and 35 almost solely because of his blown kickoffs.

The defense continues to struggle inside and out of the Red Zone. They went in as the worst Red Zone defense in the league, and they didn't disappoint, as they allowed four touchdowns and a field goal from inside the 20. The performance overall degenerated as the game went on. They were unable to handle the uptempo offense of Matt Ryan, and the final three drives that produced a field goal and two touchdowns lasted 18, 12, and 12 plays. Exhausting.

THE BUMPS:

RB Brandon Jacobs had a thigh bruise in the third quarter and did not return.

LT David Diehl had a left ankle injury in the third quarter and did not return.

EP

The Game

Inactives

Here are the inactives for today.

GIANTS

WR Ramses Barden
LB Antonio Pierce
LB Bryan Kehl
T Adam Koets
CB Kevin Dockery
WR Sinorice Moss
T Guy Whimper
CB DJ Johnson
RB Gartrell Johnson

Note that Aaron Ross is active at cornerback. Chase Blackburn will start in place of Antonio Pierce at MLB.

FALCONS:
QB John Parker Wilson
RB Jerious Norwood
RB Michael Turner
LB Spencer Adkins
T Garrett Reynolds
G Quinn Ojinnaka
WR Brian Finneran
DT Trey Lewis

EP

Just a Reminder

We're live-blogging starting at 1 p.m. I'll get things going around 12:45 so we can get a jump on the discussion.

EP

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Coughlin on AP

Here's Tom Coughlin on losing Pierce:

"Our concern is for AP and we're here to support him," Coughlin said through the Giants' PR department. "He is very disappointed and our thoughts are about his well-being right now.

"We won't have AP on the field, but we'll have his heart and his leadership on the sidelines to rally the troops. The other members of the defense have got to reach down and play harder, faster, better."

Pierce also put out a statement through Twitter that says more than anything about how disappointed he is. His season could be over, as well as his Giants career.

"Thanks for ya support," Pierce tweeted. "Sorry to let ya down."

Pierce is currently the Giants' leader with 51 tackles, one more than Terrell Thomas. He had a sack, two breakups, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. But more than anything, he was the defense's leader, using his football smarts and a great study ethic to partially compensate for the speed he lost.

Bulging discs generally take a long time to settle down. He could be out for six weeks or longer, and if he decides on surgery, his season would certainly be over. Then, it becomes a matter of whether the Giants want to turn the page next year and go with younger, faster personnel. Pierce has one year left on his contract at $4.75 million. If the NFL's collective bargaining agreement lapses after the season, as is expected, 2010 would become an uncapped year, and the Giants might want to save that money for a free agent buy.

In other words, there's a very good chance Giants fans have seen the last of Pierce in the long run. In the short term, Chase Blackburn will probably take over at middle linebacker, providing a younger player than the 31-year-old Pierce, but hardly as savvy. If Blackburn needs to come out, Jonathan Goff would be the next option in the middle, as would strongside starter Danny Clark.

EP

Reminder

The Giants' defense may suffer without middle linebacker Antonio Pierce, but we'll let Tom Coughlin and Bill Sheridan worry about that. We're business as usual in this space, which means yours truly will be live-blogging the game tomorrow. Just look for the entry with the Cover-It-Live box and start the conversation. I'll put it up there about 12:45 so you guys can get up a good head of steam leading into the 1 p.m. kickoff.

EP

Game 10 Scouting Report

ATLANTA FALCONS (5-4) vs. GIANTS (5-4)

THE TEAMS: The Giants are coming off four straight losses and a bye. Although the bye came at a perfect time, allowing the players to get away from the losing and recover physically, they historically do not do well after byes. They are 5-15 following bye weeks since 1992, though they did pound Seattle after the bye last year. The Giants need this one if they're to capitalize on the huge break they got on the bye weekend when division rivals Dallas and Philadelphia both lost. "This game means a lot to us,” middle linebacker Antonio Pierce said. “For one, we need a win to get out of this four-game slump and, two, it will help us in the playoff hunt. We are tied for one of the wild card spots and you always want to win the head to head battles." The Falcons come off a 28-19 setback to Carolina and have lost three out of four. Their defense is one of the worst in the league, ranking 26th against the run, 28th against the pass, and 25th overall.

THE HISTORY: The Giants will be fighting against some odd history, as the visiting team in this series has won the last 12 meetings, the longest streak in NFL history. The last home team win came 30 years ago, on Nov. 11, 1979, when the Giants won 24-3 at Giants Stadium. The Giants have since lost five staight home games to the Falcons, the last three coming in 2002, '03, and '04. Atlanta leads the overall series 10-9, and the Giants are 1-5 at Giants Stadium. Incidentally, Eli Manning's first loss as a starter came against the Falcons, a 14-10 setback on Nov. 21, 2004.

INJURIES: Giants -- LB Antonio Pierce (neck) is out. CB Aaron Ross (hamstring) is questionable. RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot and ankle), and QB Eli Manning (foot) are probable.

Falcons -- WR Brian Finneran (knee) is out. RB Michael Turner (ankle) is doubtful. WR Roddy White (knee), S Eric Coleman (knee) and RB Jerious Norwood (hip) are questionable. T Sam Baker (ankle) is probable.

WATCH THIS: The 11th-hour loss of Antonio Pierce could prove a devestating blow to the linebacking corps and the run defense. Though that unit will automatically become faster as Chase Blackburn switches over to Pierce's middle linebacker spot and either Jonathan Goff or Bryan Kehl go into the weakside spot to spell Michael Boley, they lose one of the smartest, savviest players on the entire defense. That's going to hurt, as Pierce was one of the best at sniffing out a play before the snap. Now they'll have to rely on sheer execution, which has not been a Giants' forte of late.
The Falcons' running game is in a shambles with 800-yard rusher and big-play guy Michael Turner out with a sprained ankle and backup Jerious Norwood doubtful with a hip injury. That leaves Aaron Stecker and Jason Snelling, two middling RBs that should allow a struggling run defense to pick up its game. "They are still going to run the football," defensive end Osi Umenyiora said. "They have an outstanding offensive line. I think Michael Turner is an outstanding running back, but I think their scheme dictates how many yards he is able to get. I think whoever is back there, if they keep running their same schemes, is going to be pretty effective. We don’t worry about who is back there. I think they are going to come in here and run the football anyway, no matter who they have got back there and we are going to be prepared for that."

Still, the overriding theme in Turner's absence will be an emphasis on the passing game. While the Falcons do possess a deep threat in Roddy White, whose 47 catches for 668 yards and six touchdowns leads the team, quarterback Matt Ryan could take more advantage of mismatches caused by tight end Tony Gonzalez. The Hall-of-Famer in waiting is a big, tough target who still has plenty of speed to outrun any of the Giants' three starting linebackers -- Chase Blackburn, Antonio Pierce, or Danny Clark. It would not be outlandish to expect rookie Clint Sintim to see significant time in place of strongsider Clark in obvious passing downs, as he is the only LB mobile enough to keep up with Gonzalez. Also likely, the Giants could also use safeties Aaron Rouse or Michael Johnson to cover him. Or, providing his hamstring holds up, returning cornerback Aaron Ross. Ross hasn't played this year, though, so assigning him to the powerful Gonzalez could be a dicey proposition. Then again, he's used to playing the slot receiver, so there is a comfort level there. "He is a tough matchup," defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan said. "He is a big third down guy for them. He is used to being covered by safeties, so that is not going to be anything different for him, and he is used to being double-covered a lot on third down. You see almost everybody they play against forms some kind of a double bracket on him on third down. None of that stuff is foreign to him and he still does a good job of shaking people off and getting to the first down marker and catching the ball." Gonzalez is tied for ninth in the NFL in third-down receptions with 15 catches for 175 yards (11.7 average) and two TDs.

A lot will depend on how well the pass rush is going. If Sheridan calls his plays with the most recent games in mind, he'll be very careful about calling blitzes and leaving the corners one-on-one against the fast White. It's imperative that Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora make some noise in the backfield. Matt Ryan is shakeable, but a pass rush that hasn't gotten home a lot needs to hit him hard. The second-year quarterback, looking far from the strong-armed worldbeater of his rookie season, has thrown 11 picks in his last six games, six in the last three. So he's perfectly capable of making the big mistake.

The defensive front will have to adjust to a different type of blocking scheme. Most teams block the man. This team zone blocks, which can create confusion up front. They're a veteran group, with center Todd McClure, starting his 121st consecutive game, anchoring it. The left side, where the bulk of the Falcons' running goes, is particularly formidable considering guard Tyson Clabo has 46 straight starts there. Sam Baker, at 6-5, 307, provides a mobile, strong presence at left tackle, but he may not play because of a bad ankle. The Falcons' offense ranks only 14th overall, at a 342.8-yard average.

Look for Sintim to be let loose on some blitzes, along with cornerback Terrell Thomas. If Sheridan is smart, we've seen the last of the zone blitz, which confuses no one anymore while taking one of the better pressurers, Tuck, out of the pass rush.

Offensively, Eli Manning may have turned a corner as far as accuracy goes against San Diego and must continue that through short, clock-controlling passing. Steve Smith will again be his go-to target, with Hakeem Nicks there for the big-play potential off the slip-screen and deep pattern. But first and foremost, the Giants must dominate the ground game. They need a big dose of Brandon Jacobs to keep the clock moving and create play-action effectiveness, especially when inside the Red Zone.

The Giants are tied with Oakland for 27th in Red Zone touchdowns, with only 15 TDs in 36 trips. The Falcons are 18th in the league in Red Zone defense, as opponents have scored 15 TDs in 28 trips. They've also sent opponents away empty seven times. Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride could switch strategies and allow Manning to throw it into the end zone on third down, something he failed to do against San Diego on the Giants' final possession even though an earlier such throw to tight end Kevin Boss worked perfectly.

The coaches would love to work Danny Ware into the regular offense to create another three-headed monster, ala Jacobs, Derrick Ward, and Bradshaw of the last two seasons. But they would be ill-advised to take carries away from Jacobs. With the weather getting nastier and the wind whipping up at Giants Stadium, Manning is bound to become less effective. They'll need to get Jacobs going regularly, in rhythm, to wear down the defense. But Ware could switch off with Bradshaw when Jacobs gets a rest.

Jeff Feagles spent the better part of the week practicing directional kicks. Luckily, this week there is no DeSean Jackson or Darren Sproles back there. Instead, Eric Weems, a solid but not spectacular returner, is the target. Feagles probably will keep more of his punts inbounds this week, allowing his coverage team to make plays against a returner who averages a healthy 9.1 yards per punt return, 13th ranked in the league. The Falcons have had an inconsistent performance from kicker Jason Elam, whose four of his five misses have come from 42 yards and in. His last miss came from 34 yards in last week's loss to Carolina. Just shows you that Lawrence Tynes isn't the only crapshoot in the league.

PREDICTION: The Falcons are an eminently beatable team anyway. And now, without Michael Turner, their offense should be even more vulnerable. The heat is definitely on the Giants, however, since this looms as a huge conference game. Lose this, and they've really put their backs to the wall as far as divisional and wildcard tiebreakers go. A setback here could define their season and set them on a non-playoff course. They need a win, and they'll get it even without Pierce. 35-17, Giants.

EP