NFC West: New York Giants

First impressions from MetLife Stadium

September, 19, 2011
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Arriving early for "Monday Night Football" allowed for a quick self-tour around the MetLife Stadium grounds.

A few first impressions:
  • The New York Giants' offices and practice facility are here as well, with a security gate controlling vehicle access to the parking lot. A large plasma TV showing NFL Network greets visitors to the bright lobby with vaulted ceiling and abundant natural light (what is this, Better Homes and Gardens?). You can read more about the offices and practice facility here.
  • The stadium has a modern look from the outside, but it's the inside that is truly spectacular, instantly making this look like one of the best places in the NFL to watch a game. Back into BHG mode: The sunshine on this Monday adds vibrance to the white-on-blue end zones and FieldTurf surface speckled with black rubber infill.
  • The light brown and metallic gray seats framing the field are understated. They also seem close to the field. Visitors probably feel more surrounded here than at stadiums with fewer seats or more distance between field and upper decks. I don't know how the measurements compare to those of other stadiums, but that is the feeling.
  • Each corner of the stadium features a large videoboard on the suite level sandwiched between the upper deck and second levels. These screens do not even attempt to compare with the massive screen distinguishing Jerry Jones' stadium in Dallas, but they fit well with the open-air stadium.
  • The MetLife signage knows its place and doesn't intrude like an unwanted solicitor. I'm noticing blue-lettered signage attached to the upper-deck facade above each end zone, and additional digital display on the video scoreboard ring around the stadium.
  • The lettering honoring Andy Robustelli, Joe Morrison, Y.A. Tittle and other Giants greats is on the small side, with first names in even smaller type and stacked above last names. It's tough to see the "Amani" above the "Toomer" across the field, but if you have to ask what it says above Toomer's name, it's time to brush up on your NFL fan credentials, anyway.

I've hit my limit for first impressions. Better back off before someone assigns me to the new stadium minutiae blog.

Posted by's Mike Sando

Chris Wells is among the running backs still available after the Colts selected Donald Brown with the 27th overall choice. The teams picking before Arizona -- the Bills, Giants and Titans -- would appear to be set at the position.

Opinions are mixed as to the values of running backs in this draft. Arizona could always go in another direction at No. 31, but a running back would certainly make sense.

Posted by's Mike Sando

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch outlines sweeping changes to the Rams' offensive line following the team's decision to release Orlando Pace. Stick with me here. The tentative plan would be for right tackle Alex Barron to take over at left tackle. Left guard Jacob Bell would move to right tackle. Second-year pro John Greco would take over at left guard. Free-agent addition Jason Brown, signed to a reworked contract Tuesday, takes over at center. Richie Incognito would remain at right guard. Selecting a starting left tackle with the second overall choice in the 2009 draft would change the picture again.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the quarterback race between Shaun Hill and Alex Smith also includes newly signed 49ers veteran Damon Huard. While the point is valid -- J.T. O'Sullivan emerged unexpectedly last offseason -- the organization won't be deferring to Mike Martz this time.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat thinks the 49ers should install Hill as their starting quarterback from the beginning of the 2009 season. Maiocco: "The best way to handle Smith is to ease him back in. Hill should be the starter from Day 1. Generally, the most popular player on a team is the backup quarterback. At some point, Smith will probably get an opportunity to prove himself in that backup role. When that chance comes, he will be afforded a longer leash."

Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle frames Smith's situation as an undefined reflection of the 49ers' undefined leadership. Ratto: "More intriguing, though, is the notion that this might be undefined rather than unfinished business that confronts Smith. He framed the competition as Smith v. Hill, but there is no real reason to think it might not be Smith v. Hill v. Unnamed Future Figure, or that it is a true competition between relative equals."

Ann Killion of the San Jose Mercury News says Smith's fresh start might not look like one from the outside. Killion: "Fans might not recognize that fresh feeling, at least not at quarterback. That competition looks like a do-over of 2006: Smith vs. Shaun Hill with Damon Huard in the role of Trent Dilfer. And, of course, there's a new offensive coordinator to break in. But since the 49ers are lacking bright ideas in regard to quarterbacks (instead taking a weird run at Kurt Warner) and they're unlikely to tie up another first-round pick on a quarterback, why not keep Smith in the fold? They might as well see if they can get something out of their enormous investment."

Peter King of says he expects the Cardinals to trade Anquan Boldin, probably to the Eagles. King: "The Eagles and Giants, two receiver-needy teams, are in position to deal for Anquan Boldin, who I continue to say will not be a Cardinal by July. Philly has [picks] 21, 28 and 53, the Giants 29, 45 and 60. I find it hard to believe the Eagles won't trade for Boldin. Very hard. He's a perfect fit, and they've got the cap room to sign him." Boldin played his worst game of the 2008 season during a blowout defeat at Philadelphia, but he's still one of the best receivers in the league.

Darren Urban of says the Cardinals are interviewing candidates for their pro personnel department.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says former Broncos general manager Ted Sundquist is among those to interview.

Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind sizes up Northern Illinois outside linebacker Larry English as a potential Cardinals draft choice. Hawkwind: "Basically the case for English is the same as the case for Clint Sintim, he's a guy who will upgrade the pass rush and provide depth at outside linebacker. He doesn't have the experience that Sintim has with playing upright, but his upside is a bit higher. If the Cardinals feel like rolling the dice and going with a high upside, higher risk type of pick, English could be the guy in the first round."

Pete Prisco of checks in with Calais Campbell as the second-year pro prepares to replace Antonio Smith in the Cardinals' lineup at defensive end. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. thinks the Cardinals will miss Smith. More on that in a future blog entry.

John Morgan of Field Gulls revisits Darryl Tapp's 2008 season with the Seahawks. The reviews are favorable. Morgan: "Tapp is solid exactly as he is. He's consistently disruptive, able to beat about any type of tackle, and not so bad in run support as to be a liability. Tapp has a great first step, good dip, good inside move, good rip and a capable bull rush, plus the kind of suddenness to convert penetration into a sack. He makes those around him better."

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Seahawks' Jim Mora was the only NFL head coach to attend the University of Washington's pro day. Mora is a UW alumnus, of course.

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Rams GM lands big hire with Spagnuolo

January, 17, 2009
  Evan Pinkus/Getty Image
  Former New York defensive coordinator was a hot commodity after New York's playoff loss to Philadelphia and is now headed to St. Louis.

Posted by's Mike Sando

The Rams have to feel good about their ability to land Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo as head coach given the recent state of the franchise in St. Louis.

Spagnuolo was the hot candidate a year ago. The Rams couldn't have pried him away if they had been interested in him at that time. No team could.

The Giants didn't finish this season with a Super Bowl title, but if Spagnuolo was a good coach one year ago, he should be a better one for having one more year of experience.

The Rams' interest in Spagnuolo comes as little surprise given his success in the NFL and his longstanding relationship with Rams general manager Billy Devaney. The hiring seemed less likely when the Rams appeared to show considerable interest in other candidates, even bringing in Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett a second time.

The relationship between Spagnuolo and Devaney was probably key in the Rams' ability to land such a high-profile candidate. This wasn't just a case of Devaney trusting Spagnuolo. Given the state of the Rams after two horrible seasons and a potentially unsettled ownership situation, Spagnuolo needed to trust Devaney when the general manager sold him on the Rams.

Why I stood by Giants in power rankings

December, 16, 2008

Posted by's Mike Sando

Our power rankings for Week 16 should be popping onto the site -- with voter-by-voter breakdowns on this blog -- sometime around 2 p.m. ET.

In the meantime, I'll get a head start in addressing the toughest decision I faced in putting together rankings late Monday night. I wound up leaving the Giants in the top spot even after their less-than-impressive showing at Dallas. A few thoughts on why:

The Giants, more than any team in the league, have earned the benefit of the doubt. A road defeat against a talented and desperate divisional opponent isn't unforgivable.

Yes, but what about the Steelers? I was about to rank them first when the replay official initiated a challenge. The evidence wasn't necessarily conclusive, but hey, certainty is in the eye of the beholder.

More seriously, the Steelers were indeed impressive, resilient and resourceful during their final drive against the Ravens. But was that final touchdown a legitimate touchdown? It was if you took referee Walt Coleman's word for it, and his word was the one that counted. But plenty of reasonable people (and some unreasonable ones, no doubt) weren't so sure.

I couldn't quite move the Steelers into the top overall spot after such a close call. The Giants' earlier victory at Pittsburgh also stuck in my mind a bit.

The Titans, likewise, did not seem worthy of moving past the Giants into the top spot. Again, losing on the road against a division opponent is going to happen. That's why I didn't mark down the Titans much. But moving them into the top spot following a defeat didn't seem right.

I could have moved the Panthers all the way to the top spot, but there's no rush. They visit the Giants in Week 16. I'll move down the Giants if they lose that game at home. Until then, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.

One other note: I did move up the Falcons into the top 10 after their victory over the Bucs. Quite a few people thought I ranked them too low last week. I promised to move them up if they beat Tampa Bay.

NFC West watch: I knocked the Cardinals out of the top 15 after their least impressive home performance of the season.

Posted by's Mike Sando

The Seahawks, Rams and Lions are the only NFC teams with no chance at earning a playoff berth. A quick look at which NFC teams can clinch in Week 14:

Giants: They can clinch the NFC East title with a victory, or with a tie accompanied by a Cowboys loss, or with a Cowboys loss. They can clinch a first-round playoff bye with a victory, or a tie accompanied by a Cowboys loss, or a Cowboys loss accompanied by a Vikings loss/tie and a Cardinals loss/tie.

Cardinals: They can clinch the NFC West title with a victory, or a tie with a 49ers loss/tie, or with a 49ers loss.

The Cardinals control their divisional destiny, in other words. A home loss to the Rams in Week 14 would do more than keep the 49ers at least mathematically alive in the NFC West race. We would also have grounds to explore the all-time stretch-run collapses.

Can anyone make a reasonable case for the Rams pulling the upset Sunday? I cannot, but if you've followed the Cardinals long enough, perhaps the accumulated cynicism can make such a scenario seem remotely plausible.

Posted by's Mike Sando

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Cardinals are allowing 89.5 yards rushing per game after holding the Giants' league-leading rushing attack to 87 yards on 27 carries.

The Cardinals' opponents are averaging 3.7 yards per carry. One of the Cardinals' last six opponents -- the 49ers with Frank Gore -- averaged more than 3.9 yards per carry.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin offered high praise for Arizona's run defense.

"They are an outstanding defensive team against the run," Coughlin said. "They probably play their eight-man front scheme as well as anybody that we have played."

Linebacker Karlos Dansby and strong safety Adrian Wilson deserve consideration for the Pro Bowl.

I have a better appreciation for Wilson's impact after watching the Cardinals every week. He's a skilled blitzer, sure tackler and hard hitter. He can also make plays on the ball. Not many safeties could make the type of interception he made against the 49ers on Monday night.

Wilson is a threat to knock out the opposing quarterback every week. He came close to getting a blind-side shot on Eli Manning, but the Giants had a screen called and Manning threw the ball.

Rapid Reaction: Giants 37, Cardinals 29

November, 23, 2008

Posted by's Mike Sando

PHOENIX -- The Cardinals won't have to worry about facing an opponent as complete as the Giants until the playoffs. That's a good thing for Arizona.

The Giants pounded quarterback Kurt Warner once they proved that Arizona posed no threat on the ground. Warner's ability to get rid of the football quickly has usually been enough against lesser opponents. The Giants also showed they could cover downfield, however, throwing off the timing of the Cardinals' receivers.

A Cardinals victory would have vaulted Arizona into the race for home-field advantage in the NFC. That goal was never very realistic. As a result, nothing much changes for the Cardinals after losing this game. They'll still win the NFC West and host a playoff game.

Cardinals test obscure free-kick rule

November, 23, 2008

Posted by's Mike Sando

PHOENIX -- Neil Rackers' streak of 15 consecutive made field goals ended in unusual fashion when he badly missed a 68-yard attempt on a free kick to end the first half.

Rules allowed the Cardinals to attempt the free kick after signaling for a fair catch on a punt with 5 seconds remaining in the second quarter.

Punter Dirk Johnson held the ball at the Arizona 42. There was no snapper and the Giants could not line up within 10 yards of the ball.

Rackers took a running start and kicked the ball the way he might have on a kickoff. But much like a golfer who swings too hard, Rackers failed to strike the ball cleanly. He skulled it and the ball barely got off the ground. The Giants returned it 29 yards as the half ended.

Warner: Cardinals still must earn respect

November, 19, 2008

Posted by's Mike Sando

The opponents change, but Kurt Warner gets the same questions week after week. Yes, he knew he could still play at this level. Yes, he sees similarities between the Cardinals' offense and the one he ran in St. Louis. Etcetera.

One of the questions reporters covering the Giants asked this week took a different tack. They wanted to know if Warner thought the Cardinals needed to beat a team such as the Giants to enhance their credibility. Or had Arizona done enough at 7-3?

Warner: "No, I think we are a long ways from getting credibility out here in Arizona. I think for so long we haven't had success and we haven't played good football. I think a win against a team like the Giants would obviously give us more credibility. I still think we have a long ways to go.

"And I think that comes from consistency and doing it year in and year out and game in and game out. And we are not there yet. And so I don't expect anybody to give us anything. You want to be a team that has to earn it. And I think we still have to earn it. I think we are gaining a little bit bit-by-bit; little pieces here and there, which is obviously good for our team and organization."

Warner also compared the Giants' defense to the one he faced at Carolina in that both can get pressure with their front four, and both have quality players in the secondary with ample speed at linebacker. Warner completed 35 of 49 passes for 381 yards during a 27-23 defeat to the Panthers. He had two touchdowns, one interception and a 99.1 rating.

Scouts Inc.: Can Pendergast outscheme Eli?

November, 19, 2008
 Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE and Rich Kane-US PRESSWIRE
 Cardinals defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast will use varied looks and movements in an effort to keep Eli Manning guessing.

Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Keith Kidd

One of the most intriguing matchups in Sunday's Giants-Cardinals game will be decided, to a large extent, not on the field but in the film room. How Arizona defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast decides to attack quarterback Eli Manning in passing situations will go a long way toward determining the outcome.

Pendergast, who should be on a number of short lists for NFL teams seeking a new head coach in the offseason, is a dynamic thinker who specializes in exotic pressure schemes. He builds his packages out of a base 3-4, though the Cardinals often move into a four-man front in nickel situations. It's a multiple scheme with variations and movements, and Pendergast isn't afraid to use them all. That may be necessary against Manning, a terrific talent who continues to deliver efficient play. But to get to him, the Cardinals first must put the clamps on the Giants' explosive run game.

New York has an excellent trio of backs -- Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw and Derrick Ward -- who complement each other well, not to mention one of the finest offensive lines in the league. The Giants' runners can punish opponents, and they excel at bouncing runs outside and getting to the edges. Arizona's defense is fast to the ball and aggressive in pursuit, but slowing New York's downhill running and interior power will be a challenge. Against two-back packages on early downs, Pendergast likely will invert strong safety Adrian Wilson near the line of scrimmage and use a lot of stems and single-zone linebacker blitzes to put stress on the Giants' blocking patterns. The Cardinals must force Jacobs, Bradshaw and Ward to run laterally, create a new line of scrimmage and maintain gap discipline to put Manning in more difficult second- and third-down situations.

With that accomplished, Pendergast will utilize varied looks and movements to cover up back-end weaknesses and make it difficult for Manning to diagnose where the blitz is coming from on passing downs. Expect overload blitzes that attack the front side of the pocket (to affect Manning's eye level and passing windows) and back-side delays out of the slot. Pressure is the key to forcing game-changing mistakes. Manning has a tendency to telegraph passes and, when under duress, force throws into tight windows. Defensive end Darnell Dockett gets good interior penetration when he slides inside in sub packages, and Bertrand Berry, Travis LaBoy and Chike Okeafor all are capable pass-rushers. The players to watch, however, are Wilson and linebacker Karlos Dansby. Wilson, who spends a lot of time near the line in both regular and sub packages, is as effective rushing the passer as he is playing the run. Dansby, a versatile defender who can drop into zone or match up on a back in passing situations, might be at his best on the blitz.

Will Arizona's secondary hold up long enough to allow the pass-rushers to get home? The Cardinals don't move personnel around much on the back end, which should enable the Giants to dictate with their formations who and how they attack. Rookie cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has played well in recent weeks, but he will be tested. Receiver Plaxico Burress likely will be aligned or motioned to exploit that matchup. The Giants also will try to use play-action to bait free safety Antrel Rolle, who has struggled a bit in deep zones. In any case, the Cardinals must be sound open-field tacklers, because there should be plenty of room to run for Giants pass-catchers in the areas vacated by blitzers.

This is the first segment of a two-part package breaking down this weekend's Cardinals-Giants game. Check back at noon for Mike Sando's take.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for

Posted by's Mike Sando

The Cardinals have projected as a 10-win team since they defeated the Cowboys in Week 6. They can take the next step, perhaps becoming a threat to secure home-field advantage in the NFC, if they can defeat the 9-1 Giants at University of Phoenix Stadium in Week 12.

Which brings us to the latest Hot Topic question. Will the Cardinals defeat the defending Super Bowl champions? If so, why? If not, why? I'll be exploring the issue in depth Wednesday after reading your best explanations and speaking with scouts.

Resources: Giants stats, Cardinals stats.

Posted by's Mike Sando

As NFL teams fight for positioning heading toward the playoffs, we take a quick look at the top six seeds in each conference heading into Week 12.

If the current standings held, the AFC playoffs would feature the Ravens visiting the Jets and the Colts visiting the Broncos. The NFC playoffs would feature the Redskins visiting the Cardinals and the Bucs visiting the Packers.

The Titans, Steelers, Giants and Panthers would have first-round playoff byes. The Redskins defeated the Cardinals at FedEx Field in Week 3. The rematch would be at University of Phoenix Stadium, where the Cardinals haven't lost this season.

Four teams that won at least 10 games last season have losing records so far: Seattle (10-6 to 2-8), Cleveland (10-6 to 3-6), San Diego (11-5 to 4-6) and Jacksonville (11-5 to 4-6).

Posted by's Mike Sando

Steven Jackson's inability to practice was the big news story from Rams headquarters Thursday. Jim Haslett's comments to reporters about quarterback Marc Bulger might mean more for the long term.

Haslett pointed to Bulger's standing among a short list of quarterbacks to approach 20,000 yards passing this early in their careers.

Haslett on Bulger: "We just have to surround him with people, playmakers, and I think we have a bunch of young kids that can do that. We have to protect him and do some things that make him feel comfortable. I think every quarterback goes through a phase in their career where it's not going. When he came in, he stepped in with great personnel around him, playmakers galore -- three or four receivers, a running back, a great line that had been together for a long time. He's not in that situation right now. It's a little bit different. Obviously, we'll try to get back to that some day, but right now it's not that situation."

Bulger's career passing stats remain solid: 63 percent completion rate, 7.4 yards per attempt, 112 touchdowns, 80 interceptions and an 86.9 passer rating.

Comparing strictly numbers, consider that Eli Manning has never completed higher than 60.5 percent of his passes in a season. He has never exceeded 6.9 yards per attempt in a season. And his passer rating this season -- easily a career best at 88.8 -- is about what Bulger has averaged for his career.

I draw the comparison only to illustrate what Haslett is talking about. Bulger, like Manning, is good enough to win games with a strong supporting cast.

Audibles: NFC West Week 7 preview

October, 17, 2008
Posted by's Mike Sando

San Francisco 49ers (2-4) at New York Giants (4-1), 1 p.m. ET

Trusting the Giants' Eli Manning is a lot easier than trusting the 49ers' J.T. O'Sullivan, even after Manning tossed three picks against the Browns in Week 6. That's where this game hinges.

Defenses are forcing O'Sullivan into interceptions at a furious rate. O'Sullivan has thrown seven picks in his last three games. The 49ers are 0-3 largely as a result.

The solution -- handing the ball to Frank Gore more frequently when the 49ers are leading -- appears almost too obvious. Look for that story line to get a rest this week. The Giants have the offensive line and playmaking ability to take the lead and force the 49ers into obvious passing situations. The combination should fuel a lopsided Giants victory.

Turnovers can be the great equalizer, something the Rams proved against the Redskins in Week 6. I just don't see the 49ers winning the turnover battle. The 49ers lead the NFL with 15 giveaways. The Giants rank third with only four.

Dallas Cowboys (4-2) at St. Louis Rams (1-4), 1 p.m. ET

The Rams are playing with an edge that helped them upset the Redskins while also nearly costing them the game. While they don't need any more 15-yard penalties from guard Richie Incognito, the new attitude players are showing under Jim Haslett does give them a chance to compete and possibly pull an upset.

It's probably wise to discount what the Rams had become under Scott Linehan. Their talent was better than that. The Rams thought their defensive line would provide a strong pass rush this season. I just question whether the Rams can score enough points to put the Cowboys in obvious passing situations.

This is a game Dallas should win even without Tony Romo. But the Cowboys can't take the outcome for granted. The Rams will beat teams that underestimate them.

Seattle Seahawks (1-4) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-2), 8:15 p.m. ET

Seneca Wallace probably gets the start at quarterback for Seattle. A calf injury figures to limit his mobility, which was one of his strengths. I also question whether Wallace will be sharp enough after missing so much practice time in recent weeks.

The Seattle passing game simply isn't functioning at a high enough level for the Seahawks to beat good teams, particularly on the road. It's a stretch to think that will change dramatically with Wallace replacing Charlie Frye.

The Bucs think big-play receiver Joey Galloway has a chance to return from injury this week. That's fitting from a Seattle perspective. The Seahawks' defense is giving up big pass plays and Galloway -- traded by Seattle in 2000 -- figures to find openings deep downfield.