The mark of an elite football team is beating the teams you’re supposed to beat, we’re not talking about merely winning we’re talking about the football equivalent of pushing the little guy down, kicking sand in their face, and walking off with their girlfriends. Well not only did the Giants humiliate the “little guy” Rams on Sunday afternoon, they threw in a wedgie to boot.
Oddly enough you got the sense that the Giants seemed to know they were going to win by 28 points – even when the game was as close as seven points midway through the third quarter, the game was never really in question. Yet somehow, this team sounds no different from the one that started out 0-2 last year – and that is the sign of a team that knows just how quickly things can change in the NFL. “Last year when we were 0-2, I don’t think anybody in this locker room cared about the last two games,” said Rich Seubert. “We were worried about the game we were playing. It’s the same as if you win two in a row like we did. We don’t care what happened last week. We’re worried about what’s going to happen this week.”
Last year the Giants got to see first hand what taking your opponents for granted can do to a team – and that eye opening experience has helped keep the Giants feet planted firmly on the ground and working each week to be better than the last, knowing that any week any team can be beaten. “It is different. Obviously being 0-2 last year and 2-0 – …. Better now, but it is still a matter of having a long season left,” said Eli Manning after having a near perfect afternoon. “We still have things we need to improve on. This week we have to get better.”
One player who seems to relishing the chance to become the focal point of what his team is trying to do is Justin Tuck. Just like Osi Umenyiora against the Eagles last, Tuck had the kind of hallmark game against the Rams that fans will look back on and say “when he was at his best that was what Justin Tuck brought to the football field.” The fourth year defensive linemen was a menace to Mark Bulger all day, picking up two sacks and an interception that seemed to surprise Tuck as much as anyone as he juggled the ball before securing it and jogging untouched into the endzone. “I like the way he has developed as a young man, as a football player, taking some responsibility in the meeting room,” said Coach Coughlin. “I think he has learned from a real, real good one. He has paid attention, he is smart, real smart, pays attention, so the fact that he is contributing in all those ways is a real plus for our team.”
The easy schedule continues next week for the G-Men as they draw a struggling Bengals squad at home. “It is going to be tough. Obviously they are very powerful. Their offense has scored points,” said Manning. “We know that every week in the NFL if you don’t come out mentally ready, playing smart football, then anyone can beat you and embarrass you.” The Giants are proving to be more than just a team that got lucky in last year’s playoffs – they just don’t act like – or maybe just feel like they don’t need to.
Eli Manning desperately needed a strong performance to quell any doubts about the playoffs being a fluke; the result was a performance that was just about as good as could have been asked of last year’s Super Bowl MVP. Manning started out a bit slow, failing to take advantage of opportunities to run up the score on the Rams after the 33-yard pass to Burress that opened up the scoring. But the second half saw Manning go an outstanding 9 for 11 and two touchdowns. His final line was 20 for 29 with three touchdowns on 260 yards – perhaps most impressive was his 131.4 pass rating with no turnovers. Translation – Manning is protecting the ball and making the right decisions. Not much more you could ask from the leader of the offense.
The receivers had a strong day, with four ending up with multiple receptions. Plaxico Burress continued his spectacular play, making five catches for 81 yards – he routinely torched the Rams secondary reeling in four passes over 10 yards and averaged over 16 yards per catch. In this week’s preview article we commented that Steve Smith could be passing Amani Toomer on the depth charts – well Amani proved us very wrong going as he was perhaps the team’s most reliable receiver picking up 61 yard on six catches. Toomer also made an impressive touchdown catch with Tye Hill draped all over him. Domenik Hixon had a big day as well, continuing to impress the coaching staff after a stellar pre-season. Kevin Boss was pretty much invisible, and while it didn’t have a big impact on today’s outcome it is something that could cause issues later in the year as the weather gets worse.
Taking a bit of a back seat to the passing game, the running backs had a solid yet unspectacular game – then Ahmad Bradshaw entered the game. Unlike last week, the Giants did a much better job splitting up the carries between the three headed monsters with Jacobs, Ward, and Bradshaw each going for 50 yards or more. Brandon Jacobs shouldered most of the load, not surprisingly. He picked up 93 yards on 15 attempts – falling just short of his second straight 100 yard game. Jacobs started out slowly, picking up just 29 yards on his first 10 attempts but really came on as the game entered the second half and the Rams tired on runs of 30 and 28 yards. Derrick Ward continued his solid play picking up 58 yards, 41 of which came in the first half while Ahmad Bradshaw was the star of the second half, scoring touchdowns on consecutive touchdown drives in the second, one being an 18 yard pass and the latter a 31 yard scamper to put things away for good. The running game continues to be a dynamic, unpredictable trio of backs who all could probably get more carries elsewhere – having to fit all three in is a problem that any coach would love to have, but Coughlin seems intent on using Jacobs with Ward spelling him early on to wear down the defense and using the shiftier Bradshaw to take advantage of the slowing defense late. The result is that Jacobs is bound to start slower than the other backs while Bradshaw picks up the easy yards late – but the fact is all three are incredibly valuable to the system.
We say it every week, but it continues to be a valid assessment of the Giants O-Line – they may not have the flashy names of a certain line from Dallas but the Giants offensive linemen are among the best in the league. You don’t go for almost 450 yards by mistake and the line was about as stout as you could hope for. They did give up a few sacks but otherwise gave Manning tons of time – in terms of run blocking, they seemed to have a bit of trouble at first with some quick interior linemen but really dominated as the game went on gave the backs more than enough room to run.
Last week the defensive line seemed to struggle trying to get consistent pressure on a young quarterback in a new system – with an extra three days to prepare this week they had a huge advantage and were in Mark Bulger’s face resulting in a much improved five sacks from the linemen. Justin Tuck looked much more dangerous bringing pressure from all over the line today, coming up with the aforementioned big interception and return as well as two sacks. Fred Robbins joined him with two sacks from the inside and Jay Alford added one as well. Perhaps most impressive from the interior linemen was the job they did against Steven Jackson, holding the former Pro Bowler to just 53 yards on the ground. It’s often said that games are won and lost at the line of scrimmage, a battle the Giants routinely dominated today against a pretty talented Rams offensive line.
The linebackers were very active against the pass and the run, helping to stifle the run but struggling against the pass. Antonio Pierce picked up his first sack on the season and added three tackles. The battle at weakside linebacker continues to heat-up – Gerris Wilkinson started but failed to make any real difference while Brian Kehl seemed to make much more of an impact in limited playing time. Danny Clark had a rougher time this week guarding screens, letting Jackson go for 37 yards in the air but needed seven attempts to do so. All in all, it was solid performance against a tough opponent.
Sunday was a difficult game to simply look at the statistics and judge the secondary on. At first glance they allowed Mark Bulger to complete 20 of 32 passes but at second glance for only 177 yards. Sixety five of those 177 yards came on two plays – one of which was a 45 yard circus “catch” that was nearly an interception for first year safety, Kenny Phillips, and may very well have been had the play been reviewed. Additionally, seven passes went to Steven Jackson whose defensive responsibilities fall more on the front seven. That leaves 11 completions that went for about 59 yards – all in all not nearly as bad as it first appears. In support of the run, Michael Johnson led the team in tackles with six while James Butler and Aaron Ross each added four.
Not a spectacular or horrible game from the special teams units. The coverage teams looked better than last week, holding an always dangerous Dante Hall to an average of 20 yards on kick off returns and only seven on punt returns. RW McQuarters may have just lost his punt return job; Domenik Hixon looked tremendous on a 50 yard return to set up a Bradshaw TD run. John Carney did ok, leaving three points on the field with a missed field goal.
The Giants did exactly what they should have, beat a team they were expected to beat – but not only did they beat the Rams, they embarrassed them. The offense looked dominant, taking a lot of shots downfield but still remaining efficient – the defense was just as impressive, proving they have the ability to shut down a dominant player like Jackson. Simply put, this is a performance we aren’t used to seeing from the G-men, they usually love to keep things tight and play down to the level of their opponent. Not today.