NFC East: 2011 Week 2 Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: Giants 28, Rams 16

September, 19, 2011
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few thoughts on the New York Giants' eventful 28-16 victory over the St. Louis Rams on "Monday Night Football":

What it means: It's a win, plain and simple, and it's one the Giants needed to get. Were there issues with Eli Manning's accuracy and the secondary and more injuries at the receiver position? Oh, yeah, you betcha there were. But the Giants made enough big plays when it counted that they were able to take full advantage of a Rams team that couldn't get out of its own way. What it means is that the Giants are 1-1, and not 0-2, headed into next week's division showdown with the Eagles in Philadelphia.

Heart and soul: The Giants welcomed their best player and defensive leader, Justin Tuck, back after he missed the Week 1 game with a neck injury. The difference he made was clear. The Giants' defensive line may have played fine without him last week, but with all of the weaknesses they have right now in the secondary and at linebacker, they missed his difference-making plays up front.

Receiver shortage: Hakeem Nicks recovered from his midweek knee injury enough to make an early difference with a brilliant touchdown catch in the first quarter. But the Rams were able to contain him the rest of the way, and the final drive of the first half was costly to the Giants' receiving corps. Mario Manningham suffered a concussion making a key catch on a deep ball, and Domenik Hixon injured his knee catching the touchdown. Neither returned to the game. The good news is that Steve Smith will be active for Sunday's game. The bad news is that he'll be wearing an Eagles uniform.

Secondary depth: Aaron Ross has struggled since becoming a starting cornerback in place of the injured Terrell Thomas, and his struggles continued again Monday, to the point where he was benched for a time in the second half in favor of Michael Coe. The good news for Ross is that Coe was even worse, and he was back in the game soon thereafter -- even returning punts! The problem for the Giants in the secondary right now is a lack of depth. Ross is better suited to a backup role and finds himself overexposed as a starter. And with nothing behind him, the Giants have no one who can sub in for him or Corey Webster when they're struggling or need a break. They need to use Antrel Rolle as a nickel corner and mix and match with extra safeties. They need Prince Amukamara to hurry back, and hope.

What of the QB?: Manning was shaky early on, underthrowing Manningham on some deep balls and missing shorter-range throws. But he got into a rhythm and looked better late. I still think the Giants need to commit to the run game, but they didn't seem to want to do that fully, even though the Rams weren't stopping them. So we'll see what kind of offensive game plan they come up with against the Eagles. The passing game doesn't feel trustworthy right now.

Weak sisters: It appears as though playing the NFC West teams will be a benefit to teams in the NFC East this year. The division that failed to produce a .500 team in 2010 is off to a rough start once again, and is a combined 2-6 overall and 0-4 against the NFC East after two weeks. The Rams, a preseason pick by many to be a surprise team, have looked awful twice. Monday night they effectively handed the Giants two touchdowns while clearly outplaying them in the first half -- one with a muffed punt and one when Cadillac Williams failed to recognize that the lateral he'd dropped was a live ball and Michael Boley scooped it up and ran in for a touchdown. The Giants made some plays, but the Rams helped them win this game. It won't always be so easy.

What's next: The Giants travel to Philadelphia for a Sunday afternoon game against the Eagles, who have beaten them each of the last six times they've played. The Eagles have yet to announce who will start at quarterback, since starter Michael Vick left Sunday night's game with a concussion and backup Vince Young has yet to play since injuring his hamstring in the preseason. Mike Kafka could be the starter for the Eagles against the Giants' pass rush.

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Cowboys did something that was done to them last week: come back from a 14-point deficit. And this time the Cowboys won, avoiding a 0-2 hole for the second consecutive season with a 27-24 win.

What it means?: The Cowboys head home 1-1 thanks to a gritty comeback that saw some of their top players get hurt, including Miles Austin, Tony Romo and Phil Costa.

Austin with big game: Wide receiver Austin had one of his biggest games of the season. He finished with nine catches for 143 yards and three touchdowns. He kept the Cowboys in the game when they were without starting quarterback Tony Romo and caught a game-tying score from backup Jon Kitna. Austin didn't start off well, dropping two balls, but he responded well.

Bailey ties it: After missing a 21-yard field goal try in the first half, Dan Bailey rewarded Jason Garrett for having faith. Bailey nailed a game-tying 48-yard field goal with four seconds left in regulation to tie the game. After the first miss, there were serious concerns about Bailey's abilities to make clutch kicks. But with the game on the line, Bailey responded.

Romo plays with rib injury: Romo suffered a fractured rib on the third play of the game, then was knocked around some more on the first possession. Romo didn't start the second half due to the injury and Jon Kitna replaced him. Kitna threw a game-tying touchdown but he also threw two interceptions. Romo returned with 37 seconds to play in the third quarter. He finished 20-of-33 for 345 yards and two touchdowns.

Defense plays well: The 49ers scored 10 points in the second half, but they were the result of two turnovers. Other than that, the Cowboys' defense controlled the second half. The Cowboys had six sacks, including two each from DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher. The Cowboys also had an interception from Alan Ball.

Interesting decision by the 49ers: Kicker David Akers converted a 55-yard field goal to give the 49ers a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter. A penalty on Keith Brooking for leverage on the kick could have given the 49ers a first down and 15 more yards. But Niners coach Jim Harbaugh elected to take the points and not the yards. Dallas rallied to tie the score, but it would have been harder to get 14 points than 10 given how the offense struggled at times on Sunday.

Injuries adding up: First it was Romo and his fractured rib, then Felix Jones hurt a shoulder. Both played through it, but starting center Phil Costa left the game with a knee injury and didn't return. Kevin Kowalski replaced him with 11:12 to play in the quarter. The Cowboys were already without wide receiver Dez Bryant (quad), Bill Nagy (neck), Orlando Scandrick (ankle) and Terence Newman (groin).

What's next?: The Cowboys have their home opener next week at Cowboys Stadium vs. the 2-0 Washington Redskins.
LANDOVER, Md. -- A few thoughts on the Washington Redskins' victory Sunday over the Arizona Cardinals:

What it means: That the Redskins are in first place, just as everyone predicted they'd be! Seriously, Washington is 2-0 going into its first road game of the year and they got there with a strong running game and an inspired-looking defense. There was a lot for the Redskins to overcome in this game, with quarterback Rex Grossman throwing two early interceptions and the missed opportunities piling up throughout the first half. And for a long time, it looked like the kind of game the Redskins have become used to losing over the past couple of years. Instead, it's a tough, feel-good win piggybacked on last week's season-opening victory over the rival Giants.

Defensive leader: The best player on the field for Washington was 14-year veteran linebacker London Fletcher, who was in Kevin Kolb's face all day. The Redskins used a variety of shifting and confusing looks on defense, often freeing up the versatile Fletcher to blitz undetected. He and outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan were disruptive forces in the Arizona backfield, and it was Fletcher who delivered the hit on Kolb as he was getting rid of the ball on the long touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald in the fourth quarter. Arizona's Beanie Wells found a little bit of success running the ball in the third quarter, but really, other than the bomb to Fitzgerald, the Redskins' defense played an excellent overall game, culminating in the three-and-out that gave them the ball back with time left to drive for the game-winning field goal and the forced fumble by Byron Westbrook that iced it.

Grinding it out: The Redskins mixed up the play calling early in the game, but after Grossman's second interception they went to a heavy dose of Tim Hightower and the run game. Hightower got 15 carries for 83 yards in the first half, and Roy Helu got four more carries to help spell him. Hightower looked as though he wore down and wasn't hitting the holes as effectively in the second half, so we saw more of Helu but nothing, oddly, from Ryan Torain. It looks as though Helu is the clear second option for carries after Hightower, who's had a strong start to the season.

Star in the making? Redskins tight end Fred Davis continued to show a remarkable ability to get open and catch the ball from Grossman. He has emerged as a favorite target in the Redskins' passing game, adding to the array of reliable possession receivers Grossman has at his disposal and making it difficult for the defense to figure out who to cover between him, Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney. It seemed the Cardinals' pass defense was based largely on the hope that Grossman would throw interceptions. Grossman completed passes to eight different receivers, and Davis led them all with six catches and 86 yards.

Kicking issues: Until he kicked the 34-yarder that gave the Redskins the lead with 1:45 to go, it was not a great day for Redskins kicker Graham Gano, who had a first-half field goal blocked and then kicked the opening kickoff of the second half out of bounds. Gano seemed solid in the preseason, winning the job despite a brief outside challenge from veteran Shayne Graham, but he looked shaky Sunday. The Redskins played a lot of close games last year, and if that's going to be the way this year goes, too, they may need to keep an eye on the kicking game.

What's next: The Redskins travel to Dallas next week for a "Monday Night Football" matchup against the Dallas Cowboys on ESPN. The Redskins split the two meetings with the Cowboys in 2010, winning the opener at home 13-7 and losing 33-30 in Dallas in Week 15.