NFL Nation: Michael Coe
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' season-opening 24-17 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants on Wednesday night at MetLife Stadium.
What it means: That the Cowboys intend to be a factor in the NFC East race this year. They needed this game much more than the Giants did, if for no other reason than to let the Giants and the rest of the world know they don't plan to be the same kind of big-game pushover they were last year. Given their history, it's safe to assume the Giants will recover fine from this, address their issues and remain in the race all year long. But of the three teams expected to compete for the NFC East title this year, the Cowboys are the one that came into the season with the most questions. They get 11 days off now before their next game to feel very good about their initial answer to those questions.
He's No. 3: I don't expect to get quite as many panicked questions from Cowboys fans this week about whether their team will or should sign a veteran wide receiver such as Plaxico Burress or Chad Johnson. The Cowboys believed they had enough depth at receiver, and Kevin Ogletree followed up a strong preseason with the game of his life. Ogletree caught eight passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns, including a 40-yarder on which he got behind the Giants' best cornerback, Corey Webster, and burned him for the score. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo seemed to seek out Ogletree pretty consistently on third down, and Ogletree responded by showing an ability to get open, catch the ball and move the chains. His biggest catch may have been a third-and-12 that converted a first down just before the two-minute warning and prevented the Giants from getting the ball back with time to tie the game. Remember, as you ponder whether or not to add Ogletree in your fantasy league this morning, that the guy who played that position last year put up some pretty big numbers.
Secondary issues: With Terrell Thomas out for the year with a knee injury and Prince Amukamara out for the game with a sprained ankle, the Giants were forced to start Michael Coe at cornerback opposite Webster and put rookie Jayron Hosley on the slot receiver. Webster played Dez Bryant most of the night (I still don't know why he was on Ogletree on the one play), and Coe played Ogletree or Miles Austin, whichever lined up outside. Coe played pretty well, but he hurt his hamstring in the third quarter, and the Giants were forced to go to fourth option Justin Tryon, who got beaten badly by Austin on the fourth-quarter touchdown catch that sealed Dallas' victory. By contrast, the Cowboys' revamped secondary with Brandon Carr and rookie Morris Claiborne at corner and Barry Church and Gerald Sensabaugh at safety, covered very well all night. They were even able to get a handful of sacks when they blitzed, which was something they couldn't do against Eli Manning and the Giants last year because they couldn't trust their coverage to stay sound long enough to get to the quarterback. Claiborne looks like he needs work, as you'd expect, especially in run support. But for this night at least, the Cowboys' plan to fix their defense from the back end forward appeared to succeed.
Wobbly champs: Part of the issue Manning and the Giants had on offense was the inability of their receivers to get separation. That speaks to the Cowboys' coverage, of course, but also to a relative lack of options in the passing game. Manning did find Domenik Hixon in coverage for a long gain one time, but it took a spectacular grab by Hixon (and a whiff in coverage by Carr) to complete that one. And none of the Giants' third wide receiver options looked anywhere near as reliable as Ogletree looked for Dallas. Manning targeted Victor Cruz the most by far, and Hakeem Nicks the second-most, and he looked the way of Hixon and tight end Martellus Bennett a fair bit, and Bennett made a nice catch for a late touchdown. But Manning was just a bit off with some of his throws, and overall the Giants' passing game appeared rusty. One has to believe that will turn out to be the least of their problems.
Leaky lines: Both offensive lines looked awful. The Cowboys' guards couldn't hold off the interior pass rush of the Giants, and the tackles couldn't stop committing false starts. Tyron Smith had an especially tough first game at left tackle. The Giants, who ranked last in the league in rush yards last year, couldn't open holes for running back Ahmad Bradshaw (or David Wilson, who got some early carries before fumbling and getting benched) and were unable to sustain drives as a result. The offensive lines still figure to be the biggest areas of concern for both of these teams going forward (assuming the Giants can get their secondary healthy), and it's doubtful either offense will be able to function at its best from week to week if they can't get some of the issues fixed.
Individual stars: DeMarcus Ware, Sean Lee, DeMarco Murray and of course Romo all had standout performances for the Cowboys (though I have no idea why Murray turned inside on his long sideline run when it appeared he'd have a touchdown if he kept running straight). Austin and Bryant each made important catches at big times. For the Giants, defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Rocky Bernard each had a sack, and Jason Pierre-Paul was nearly impossible to stop all night. Keith Rivers also was a factor early at linebacker before an injury forced him from the game. Both punters were excellent, and you know how much we love punters on the NFC East blog.
What's next: Dallas will play the Seahawks in Seattle on Sunday, Sept. 16, and they'll hope that this long break between games will be enough to get nose tackle Jay Ratliff and cornerback Mike Jenkins healthy and get their offensive lineman to stop false-starting on every other play. The Giants will be back home that same day to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They'll hope that Amukamara and/or Coe can get healthy by then and they'll have more in the secondary than they did Wednesday night.
Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith, who's not having a great night as a left tackle, made a horse-collar tackle on Giants linebacker Michael Boley as Boley was running back an interception early in the second quarter. Smith chased Boley down and made the tackle on the 2-yard line, so the penalty was only for 1 yard, and it was well worth it because it kept Boley out of the end zone. The Giants' offensive line was unable to open a hole for Ahmad Bradshaw on first down or second down, and Orlando Scandrick appeared to get away with pass interference on third down, and the Giants only came away with a field goal.
That play and a 38-yard completion by Romo to Dez Bryant on third-and-1 with less than two minutes left in the half were the two most important plays for Dallas in a game otherwise dominated so far by the defenses. The Cowboys have 158 total yards to the Giants' 85. Each team has turned the ball over once. Dallas has committed six penalties, including four false starts, two of which were by Smith. But it was the horse-collar penalty Smith committed that kept the Giants from scoring a touchdown and may be the main reason the Cowboys lead at halftime. Dallas also will get the ball to begin the second half.
Some other thoughts:
- Giants cornerback Michael Coe, starting in place of the injured Prince Amukamara, has played pretty well. He's mainly been on Miles Austin or Ogletree, whichever is lined up on the outside, while Corey Webster plays Bryant and Jayron Hosley plays the slot. But Coe looks good in coverage and is a sure tackler.
- Ogletree leads Cowboys receivers with seven targets and five catches. Romo seems to really like looking for him on third downs.
- DeMarcus Ware has two sacks so far and is on pace for 64 this season. That would be a record.
- The teams have combined for 51 rushing yards. Neither team's line can open a hole for a back right now. DeMarco Murray has the longest run of the night -- 9 yards. Romo's 8-yarder is the second longest. Bradshaw's longest is 5, but don't expect to see him replaced by rookie David Wilson very soon. Wilson fumbled, and that doesn't fly with the Giants.
- Sean Lee forced that fumble, by the way, and has been credited with four tackles. Great looking player.
- Jason Witten has played sparingly, after being surprisingly activated for the game in spite of a lacerated spleen. He has one 3-yard catch.
It's a bit of a surprise, since Witten had been listed as doubtful for the game and the team was determined to be extremely careful with an injury to an internal organ. But they've apparently been assured that Witten cannot do any further damage to himself by playing, and so he's good to go. It's a great break for the Cowboys' offense, assuming he doesn't injure himself further.
Starting wide receivers Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, who missed time in the preseason with knee and hamstring injuries, respectively, are active as expected. Not playing for the Cowboys tonight are cornerback Mike Jenkins, nose tackle Jay Ratliff, safety Matt Johnson, safety Danny McCray, linebacker Kyle Wilber, guard David Arkin and tight end Colin Cochart. Ratliff is out with a high ankle sprain, and Jenkins is recovering from shoulder surgery.
For the Giants, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks will play as expected. He'd been listed as questionable with a foot injury that kept him out of training camp and the first three preseason games. Also active for the game are left tackle Will Beatty, linebacker Michael Boley, linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka and cornerback Jayron Hosley. All had been in doubt with various injuries, and it's clear Beatty and Boley aren't all the way back from theirs. Sean Locklear will start at left tackle in place of Beatty, and Keith Rivers is starting at weakside linebacker in place of Boley.
The inactive players for the Giants are wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan, cornerback Prince Amukamara, running back Da'Rel Scott, guard Mitch Petrus, defensive end Adewale Ojomo, tackle James Brewer and defensive tackle Marvin Austin. None is a huge surprise. Amukamara has a high ankle sprain, and Michael Coe will start in his place at cornerback opposite Corey Webster.
The Giants' secondary is something to watch in this game, with Coe starting and rookie nickel cornerback Hosely banged-up. It may have been less of an issue if Romo didn't have all of his receiving weapons healthy. But with Witten in the lineup, there could be matchup issues in the secondary.
The New York Giants play their final preseason game Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET against the New England Patriots. While the final preseason game is generally the least significant, here's a look at what I'll be watching ...
Most closely: Wide receivers Ramses Barden and Jerrel Jernigan. Can both make the team? Can either? Barden sure looked great in the last game, and if he does again, the Giants could convince themselves he's ready for the breakthrough they've been expecting for so long. Jernigan has to look good on special teams, where he's been a mixed bag. The Giants could keep six wide receivers, but that would create tough choices elsewhere on the roster, so they'll need a good reason to keep that many.
On the other side of the ball: Michael Coe. He's the starting cornerback opposite Corey Webster while Prince Amukamara is out with an ankle sprain and Terrell Thomas continues to work his way back from knee surgery. Coe would make Giants fans feel a lot better about next week's regular-season opener if he looked good tonight against the Patriots. Jayron Hosley is another option, but he's got a foot injury and is a rookie.
If I think of it: Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks is hoping to see his first game action of the preseason after breaking his foot back in the spring. Obviously, getting him through healthy is among the Giants' top priorities in this game. ... I'm interested to see if Adewale Ojomo can continue his late push and maybe even threaten the backup defensive end spot that appeared to belong to Adrian Tracy. ... Of course, everyone wants to see more of rookie running back David Wilson, but he's going to make the team, so it's worth watching the other running backs -- specifically Da'Rel Scott and Andre Brown, who likely are competing for just one spot.
As great as the New York Giants' starters looked, on both sides of the ball, in Friday's 20-17 preseason loss to the Chicago Bears, the news of the night was injury news. Cornerback Prince Amukamara, who was already having a rough week after a video of him being dunked into a cold tub made it onto YouTube, suffered a high ankle sprain and had to leave the game. It's unclear how much time Amukamara will miss, but high ankle sprains can take several weeks to heal, so his availability for the regular-season opener 11 days from now has to be called into question.
With Terrell Thomas still recovering from his knee injury, that leaves a big hole at starting cornerback opposite Corey Webster. Rookie Jayron Hosley has looked very good, but he's out with turf toe. He's hoping to play in next week's preseason finale, and he was already getting a long look as the nickel corner. Either Hosley, Michael Coe, Bruce Johnson or Justin Tyron would be in line to fill in for Amukamara if he has to miss a lot of time.
The good news is that this is much better than last year, when Thomas blew out his knee in a preseason game and had to miss the season. The bad news is that, whatever you may have thought of Aaron Ross, there's no one that established among the replacements on this year's roster. The Giants let Ross leave via free agency because they believed they'd get Thomas and Amukamara back healthy. So they kind of need to hurry back.
That's the bad part of what happened Friday night. As I mentioned, though, most of the night was very good for the Giants. Here's what else I saw:
- Rookie running back David Wilson got the start and looked very impressive, running for 49 yards on five carries and gaining 26 more yards on two receptions. Wilson showed a good burst, good speed and an ability to keep running after first contact. They used him on a variety of plays, as if they were trying some sort of running back sampler platter to see how much he could handle. He looked especially good on that one where he took the handoff, faked left and ran around to the right with the defense fooled. And when the play wasn't designed for him, I thought he did a good job staying in the backfield and making sure he didn't have a blitzer to pick up before heading out into the flat where Eli Manning found him. Still didn't see much to indicate how he did picking up blitzers when they did come, and Wilson's playing time will be tied at least in part to his blocking ability in the passing game. But he's clearly got playmaking ability, and the Giants should be able to find spots in which to use him.
- Ramses Barden was the star of the wide receiver corps with three catches for 46 yards and a touchdown. His catches were tough ones, too. Barden's size gives him something that Jerrel Jernigan and Domenik Hixon don't offer in the receiving game. And if Barden is impressing the coaches as much in practice as he did in the game, you start to wonder about Jernigan's roster spot. Especially since David Douglas looked good returning punts.
- The false start call on Manning for his hand-fake in the shotgun caught me off guard, but my Twitter followers alerted me to the fact that that's a point of officiating emphasis this year. Quarterbacks aren't going to be allowed to make those exaggerated gestures with their hands and legs to try and draw defenses offsides. They got David Carr for the same thing in the fourth quarter. Will be interesting to watch, league-wide.
- Pick a defensive star. Mathias Kiwanuka has been playing great, and he says the groin injury that knocked him out of the game won't prevent him from playing Sept. 5. Keith Rivers may still be a backup linebacker, but the way he's playing sideline-to-sideline, he's making it less important that Michael Boley hurry back from his hamstring injury. Linval Joseph continues to be a beast at defensive tackle. Adewale Ojomo had a sack. As good as Manning and the first-team offense looked, the Giants' defense played very well in this game and looks to be ready for the season, other than that healthy-cornerback problem.
- Safety Kenny Phillips deserves a separate mention for his work in run support. He was in the backfield for a tackle on the first play and was in there a little bit later with Osi Umenyiora to make a stop on Matt Forte. Phillips had one shaky moment when he failed to come over to help after Brandon Marshall smoked Amukamara replacement Bruce Johnson for a touchdown, but it's clear he's a huge all-around asset for the defense who doesn't get talked about very much.
- Da'Rel Scott is the forgotten man in that backup running back derby, but he blocked a punt and had a nice 15-yard run. He's speedy.
- I also noticed linebacker Greg Jones twice -- when he scooped up the punt Scott blocked, and when he made a good open-field tackle in the third quarter. The Giants' depth at linebacker is very impressive now.
- I might take Victor Cruz pretty high in those fantasy leagues that award a point per reception.
- And finally not a Giants note, but I've watched him two weeks in a row now and I'd take Brandon Marshall in any league.
The first and most important thing to note about this is that it would be awful news for Thomas personally. The main reason players generally don't come back from a second torn ACL is that most of them aren't able to get through the grueling, one-year rehab for a second time. Thomas did that and went to training camp determined to reclaim his status as a Giants starter and an emerging star cornerback. If he's torn it again, he'll be devastated, and the prospect of a third rehab just for a chance at a comeback will appear staggeringly difficult. No matter who your favorite team is, if you're human, you have to hurt for a guy in this situation. The game is just very cruel.
As for the impact on the team, the Giants are actually fairly well positioned to handle the loss of Thomas again. It's not ideal, certainly, and one of the main reasons they so easily parted company with free-agent Aaron Ross (who started in Thomas' place last season) was because of their belief that Thomas would come back healthy. But they always knew there was a chance he wouldn't, and 2011 first-round pick Prince Amukamara waits in the wings as the most likely replacement. The Giants also drafted cornerback Jayron Hosley in the third round of April's draft, and have depth on the roster in the form of guys like Michael Coe, Justin Tryon and Antwaun Molden.
There's also the chance that they could bring back veteran safety Deon Grant, who re-signed during training camp last season once injuries began to deplete the secondary. After Grant signed last year, they were able to use safety Antrel Rolle as their nickel cornerback with Grant and Kenny Phillips at safety. So keep an eye on that possibility.
As for money, the only guaranteed money in Thomas' new contract, per Mike Garafolo, is his $1 million signing bonus. The contract was structured in such a way as to protect the Giants financially in case Thomas got injured again.
Obviously, their preference would be for the news to come back better than expected so they could pay him the full amount of his contract to start and play for them. But right now, it doesn't sound good.
- The one sort of newsy element was the status of cornerback Terrell Thomas, who's recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament that cost him the entire 2011 season. Thomas left practice early and did not return, but coach Tom Coughlin said afterwards that it was Thomas' back, not his knee, that was bugging him. No one seems to think it's a long-term issue, but it underscores Thomas' status as a question mark in the secondary until we see him on the field regularly. Interestingly, it was Michael Coe and not Prince Amukamara who took over Thomas' first-team reps while he sat out. Amukamara did intercept an overthrown David Carr pass while in double coverage on rookie wide receiver Rueben Randle during team drills, but he was working with the second-teamers.
- Rookie running back David Wilson is working with the third-team offense, which I think is telling. Just because he was this year's first-round pick doesn't mean Wilson is a sure thing to be the backup running back behind Ahmad Bradshaw. And it certainly doesn't make him a threat to split carries with Bradshaw, in answer to a question I was asked on Twitter recently. Wilson will have to outplay incumbents D.J. Ware, Andre Brown and Da'Rel Scott in order to get carries. And while you might not think that sounds difficult, it's important to remember that the Giants are going to play the guys who play the best in camp. Wilson had at least one nice catch out of the backfield, and if he keeps doing that and shows something in pass protection, he can only help himself. He obviously has plenty of speed.
- Chase Blackburn was the first-team middle linebacker betwen Michael Boley (who had a great day) and Mathias Kiwanuka. Mark Herzlich was the second-team middle linebacker with Keith Rivers working at one of the outside spots. That second-team unit showed a lot in coverage, and I believe Jacquian Williams was the other second-team outside linebacker.
- Fullback Henry Hynoski was used as a receiver out of the backfield, which is interesting given the question marks the Giants have at tight end. If Martellus Bennett struggles to catch the ball, as he did in Dallas, the Giants might be able to make up for that by leaning on Hynoski more in the passing game.
- Left tackle Will Beatty told us before practice that he'd been struggling with a sciatic-nerve problem since organized team activities and expected to be limited in practice, but he seemed to take all of the first-team reps at left tackle. The Giants used Bennett as a blocker on Beatty's side a fair amount.
- People have asked about defensive tackle Marvin Austin. I didn't take note of anything he did Friday, but I promise to watch him more closely Saturday, since we're all curious to see what he brings after not playing a real game in more than two years.
The team-issued shirt, untucked and featuring an "Alex" name patch sewn onto the left chest area, reflects the blue-collar mindset coach Jim Harbaugh has established since taking over the 49ers. Mechanics, not million-dollar athletes, typically wear them.
If that makes Smith merely a wardrobe manager without the fashion sense of Tom Brady or other elite NFL dressers, so be it. But if you're going to keep calling Smith a game manager, the 49ers will tell you he's more than that. With an 8-1 record, they've got some credibility.
"Managers belong in baseball," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said from the winning locker room. "Tony LaRussa was a manager. Alex Smith is a quarterback. He does what we ask him to do and he does it at a high level, so to be a game manager, that doesn't make sense to me."
The 49ers proved Sunday they could run the offense through Smith and still defeat a playoff-caliber team featuring a Super-Bowl winning quarterback in Eli Manning. They threw 11 times in their first 13 plays and got only 50 yards from their running backs, including zero on six carries from Frank Gore, who injured a knee and did not finish the game.
Sure, the 49ers needed two interceptions and a furious defensive stand in the final minute. Yes, Manning made a few "wow" throws that Smith and other quarterbacks aren't likely to make. But this game will nonetheless put Smith's detractors on the defensive. It was the fourth time this season Smith and the 49ers turned a fourth-quarter deficit into victory.
Smith did his part, completing 19 of 30 passes for 242 yards and the go-ahead touchdown pass to Vernon Davis in the fourth quarter. Smith also carried six times for 27 yards, with one run setting up a 39-yard field goal. Smith's lone interception bounced off receiver Ted Ginn Jr.'s hands, killing a likely scoring drive before halftime. Smith now has 19 touchdowns and four interceptions in his last 14 starts. The 49ers have an 11-3 record in those games.
"Alex has been around here 6-7 years and has been dealing with a lot of B.S. around here, people calling him a bust, people not believing in him," 49ers safety Donte Whitner said. "But all he needed was a good coaching staff with the right tools and the right techniques, the right reads, to get in and teach him what to do. And he is leading this team, leading our offense. All throughout that game, they challenged him to beat them."
Whitner spent three seasons in Buffalo under Perry Fewell, now the Giants' defensive coordinator. He was certain the Giants, like any smart team, would focus their attention on the 49ers' ground game. Gore had set a franchise record with five consecutive 100-yard games before Sunday. The Giants succeeded in their plan and still lost.
"I didn't think they were going to come out and start throwing," Giants cornerback Michael Coe said. "I figured they would hand off to Gore and try to get the running game going."
It would be unfair, Coe said, to compare Smith's role in the 49ers' offense to the roles other quarterbacks play.
"Brady, in that system, obviously is required to do a lot," said Coe, whose Giants were coming off a victory over the Patriots. "He makes a lot of throws, a lot of checks and in this [49ers] system, they allow [Smith] to make the throws at times and he did that, and they allow Gore to get the running game going. He did what he was supposed to do today."
The carefully worded doubt will continue all season if Harbaugh gets his wish.
"I believe in you guys, the media," Harbaugh said. "I believe that you will find a way. ... Alex Smith, you find a way to keep diminishing the guy. They call him a game manager and he's a great game manager, but you read it and you hear people talk about him and they're trying to slight him when they say that."
Smith completed 9 of 11 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown when targeting tight ends Sunday. He entered the game ranked second in completion percentage when targeting tight ends. His NFL passer rating was also second on these throws.
Those numbers, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information, illustrate the versatility San Francisco enjoys with two tight ends on the field. Davis and Delanie Walker are simply bigger and/or faster than the men assigned to cover them. But if opponents treat Davis and Walker as receivers, the 49ers' can counter by running the ball the way teams traditionally have with two tight ends on the field.
The Giants busted a coverage on Davis' 31-yard scoring reception. Their quarterback on defense, linebacker Michael Boley, had left the game with a hamstring injury. The 49ers exploited his absence on this play and others. The Giants have played shorthanded on defense much of the season. They lost multiple defenders for stretches Sunday, including cornerbacks Aaron Ross and Corey Webster.
"You need all your people," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "San Francisco has played with everybody, all year long."
Not quite. The 49ers have stayed relatively healthy on defense, but I wouldn't call it a fluke. They're big and powerful on that side of the ball because their current and former personnel people have long thought those types of players held up better over a full season.
Defensive end Justin Smith, who batted down Manning's final pass on fourth down to preserve the 49ers' victory, has started 164 consecutive games, most among NFL defensive linemen. Middle linebacker Patrick Willis, who collected a sack and generally dominated, almost never misses games.
- Dominant special teams. The Giants' best starting field possession on 10 possessions was their own 22-yard line. The 49ers averaged starting at their own 35. They also recovered a surprise onside kick. David Akers made all four field-goal attempts, including his fifth in as many attempts from 50-plus yards.
- Smart quarterbacking. Smith's lone interception Sunday bounced off his receiver's hands. Smith took only two sacks.
- Ball-hawking defense: Cornerback Carlos Rogers collected two more interceptions, both on passes traveling at least 15 yards past the line of scrimmage. The 49ers now have 10 interceptions on those throws, up from four all last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. This was the eighth time in nine games the 49ers forced at least two turnovers.
- Four-man pressure. Manning completed 81.8 percent of his passes with an 11-yard average per attempt when the 49ers sent more than four rushers. The 49ers rushed a defensive back only once and Manning burned them with a 32-yard touchdown pass to Hakeem Nicks on that play. But San Francisco collected both picks and forced 11 incomplete passes when rushing four or fewer, which was 73 percent of the time.
- Inventive coaching. Last week, the 49ers drew up a 30-yard touchdown pass to their fullback. This time, they lined up receiver Michael Crabtree in the backfield and got him open for a successful two-point conversion. There were other wrinkles, as always.
The stat sheet will tell you the Giants held a 21-16 edge in first downs, a 395-305 advantage in total yards and nearly doubled up the 49ers in third-down conversion rate. It will tell you Manning passed for 311 yards while the Giants' defense shut down Gore.
It will tell you Smith put up modest numbers for an offense that ran only 52 plays while losing time of possession by roughly nine minutes.
Make of it what you wish.
"As long as all that is written is written against us, we'll be happy," Harbaugh said.
Two games against Arizona, two against St. Louis and one against Seattle await the 49ers. They've also got a Thanksgiving game at Baltimore and a Monday nighter at home against Pittsburgh, two more chances to beat playoff teams.
Something tells me the 49ers, like their quarterback, will find a way to manage.
"We believe in our organization, and we believe in our coaches," said ninth-year offensive lineman David Diehl, who has moved from left tackle to left guard as part of the Giants' offensive line shuffle. "We're not running around doing the free-agency fiasco and all that stuff. Yeah, you hope that, if an opportunity arises, you bring in guys that fit holes. But at the same time, we've got guys that have been here, guys that are a part of this team, guys who know the system."
That's why, even though they lost tight end Kevin Boss and receiver Steve Smith in free agency and didn't sign new guys the way the Eagles did, the Giants say they're not worried. They have a different way of doing things here. They build through the draft and groom their own players to replace the ones who leave. And they have a few guys they think can fill the holes created by their cuts and free-agent defections. It remains to be seen whether they're right, of course, but the vibe at Giants training camp is clear: Go ahead, underestimate us. We'll see how it turns out in the end.
THREE HOT ISSUES
"In the case of William Beatty, it's time," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "We've had him here. He's talented. He's had an opportunity to learn. He's practiced against some of the best. We've had some defensive ends around here that can play. So it's time. It's his turn."
Beatty started four games in his rookie season and two last season as he was being groomed for this opportunity. He's perhaps the best example of the Giants' belief in their ability to groom their own replacements for departing veterans rather than having to hit the free-agent market to do so. Now, he must prove that their faith in him was justified.
2. Can Osi Umenyiora be happy? Upset about his contract, the Giants' star defensive end has sat out practice and demanded that the team re-work his deal or trade him to a team that will. Neither of those things appears likely to happen, though the Giants have offered an olive branch in the form of some 2011 incentives depending on the number of sacks Umenyiora gets this year. He had his knee checked out last week and there's a sense he could return to practice Monday. The way Jason Pierre-Paul played in Saturday night's preseason opener only helped the Giants' leverage in this situation. They believe Pierre-Paul, their 2010 first-round pick, can be a capable replacement for Umenyiora at the defensive end spot opposite Justin Tuck. Of course, if Umenyiora wants to come back and play, they'll be thrilled to be able to rotate three such weapons at the defensive end spots. It would also enable them to put Mathias Kiwanuka at linebacker and leave him there.
3. Manning's safety valves. As the Giants' passing game evolved over the past couple of seasons, Manning relied heavily on Smith and Boss as targets when things broke down. Both are gone. The Giants hope that 2009 third-round pick Travis Beckum is ready to replace Boss. Beckum is a good receiver, but he doesn't have Boss' size or blocking ability. And they're trying everyone from Mario Manningham to Domenik Hixon to Victor Cruz in Smith's old slot-receiver role in the hopes that someone can play the position the way Smith did. Top receiver Hakeem Nicks appears poised to have another big year, and the Giants can use Manningham on the outside as they did last season. But Manning is justifiably concerned about who will be there for him when a play inevitably breaks down, and tight end and slot receiver are positions that need to be sorted out before camp ends.
"When we've gotten in trouble in the past, we always had Steve in the slot, and that's kind of all we worked on -- Steve's in the slot, there you go, he's got it down," Manning said. "And so last year, when he got hurt, we were in trouble. No one else really knew how to play it. So this year we're putting everybody -- Hakeem is in there, Manningham's getting in here, we're getting a lot of people in there to get them to learn some of it, so that'll probably create some more opportunities for us to move guys around and get some mismatches."
MAN IN THE MIDDLE
AN 'EXPLOSIVE' PHILLIPS
Two years ago, Kenny Phillips was on the verge of breaking out as one of the top safeties in the NFL. But he lost his 2009 season to a left knee injury, spent the 2009-10 offseason rehabbing the knee and wasn't the same player when he returned in 2010. This year, Phillips said, he was able to condition himself the way he normally would for a season, rather than have to rehab, and believes it has made a huge difference. "Just being more explosive," Phillips said. "Last year, just seeing the field, it was kind of difficult at times, because I'd been away from the game, to be able to break on the ball -- to actually see it and then be able to get to it. But this year, now, everything is just fluid. My technique and everything is sound. I just feel good about everything this year." Phillips said he learned a lot last season playing and working with veteran safety Deon Grant (who remains an unsigned free agent), and that, with his physical ability fully restored, he believes he'll be a better player.
All of that said, after a week in which they got knocked around in free agency and faced questions about whether their offseason plan was sound or even extant, the Giants could have used a match that left them feeling good about things. Kind of like the one the Redskins had Friday.
They didn't get it.
Yeah, some good things happened in their 20-10 exhibition loss to the Carolina Panthers. Jason Pierre-Paul was the star of the first half, looking fast, athletic and hungry as he recorded two sacks. Both punters looked good, third receiver candidates Domenik Hixon and Victor Cruz had nice moments, and Michael Boley ran back an interception for a touchdown on the first series of the game. But all in all, it wasn't a good night. There were tackling issues, communication issues and special teams issues. The backup offensive line was so bad that it may have gotten kicker Lawrence Tynes hurt.
Other than the Tynes thing, none of this is cause for any reason concern. Just because they were sloppy Saturday night doesn't mean anything about the season. I'm just saying, given the way their fans were feeling in the wake of the free-agent departures of Steve Smith, they could have used a better performance.
Here's some stuff I saw:
2. Other good stuff from the defensive line. We saw encouraging play from the defensive tackles, too, with Chris Canty getting into the backfield, Rocky Bernard getting a sack, rookie Marvin Austin playing well in the second half and the Giants generally producing a lot of pressure with their defensive front. As expected, they moved Kiwanuka up to the line in passing downs, and they did the same thing with Adrian Tracy when he replaced Kiwanuka in the second quarter. Tracy played well, helping generate the pressure that led to the Bernard sack as well as Alex Hall's. The Giants are looking for depth at linebacker, and Tracy could help if he plays like this.
3. The punters look good. The coverage? Not so much. Matt Dodge hit a couple of nice punts, including one that looked a little bit like a Jeff Feagles directional special. But Steve Weatherford was one of the best punters in the league the last couple of years and hits the ball farther than Dodge does. Could be tough for Dodge to win this competition. And regardless of who wins it, the coverage team will just have to do a better job. This is one area that actually does mean something in preseason, because the guys on special-teams coverage units should be playing hard and trying to win roster spots. They were miserable all night until Cruz came up with a big solo tackle on a punt return in the third quarter. A guy like Michael Coe, who has an opportunity with the Giants losing so much depth at cornerback, needs to come up bigger than he did on Armanti Edwards' long first return.
3a. Also, one punt-related question: Why in the world did Tom Coughlin call for a 56-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter when Tynes is coming off knee surgery and he's trying to get a look at two punters? Just wondering. Seemed like a weird decision. Tynes, who is also the only kicker I've seen so far this preseason who hasn't been able to kick it through the end zone on kickoffs, missed the attempt.
4. William Beatty -- some good, some bad: The new starting left tackle got manhandled a bit on the first two offensive series, looking overwhelmed and doing a lot of reaching and grabbing as he was getting beaten off the edge. But he seemed to settle in and looked much more authoritative and aggressive on the next few series. He stayed in longer than did the other starting offensive linemen, and it's no coincidence. Whether Beatty is ready to handle his new full-time job will go a long way toward determining how well the Giants handle their transition to this new offensive line assignment.
5. Brian Witherspoon was a bright spot. The Giants' starting secondary looks as though it should be very good (though there did seem to be some communication issues there early on). The question is whether they have depth behind the starters, with Prince Amukamara and Bruce Johnson hurt. Witherspoon was a star of the second half on special teams as well as at cornerback. A guy to watch as the preseason rolls along.
6. Quick hits: It was fun to watch top draft pick Cam Newton get his first game action for the Panthers. He beat Giants rookie Tyler Sash with a great throw on his first drive, but Sash and Coe made good plays to help keep him from capping that drive with a touchdown pass. ... It appears as though Hixon is the leader for that No. 3 receiver spot. He got a lot of work in the slot in the second half with Sage Rosenfels throwing to him. ... I thought Danny Ware looked all right as a third-down back catching screen passes. ... The word on Tynes was a thigh contusion, which is better than a knee injury for sure.
More on the Giants on Sunday, as you'll get my "Camp Confidential" report on them. Meantime, let me know what you thought.
The bad news for Eagles fans is that right tackle Winston Justice is once again inactive. He'll be replaced by King Dunlap at right tackle. And that means that Dunlap will see a steady diet of defensive end Justin Tuck in this game. Eagles new defensive end Derrick Burgess is also inactive. Rookie defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim should see some time in today's game. Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson (foot) will also be ready to go today.
Giants inactives: RS/WR Darius Reynaud, DB Michael Coe, TE Jake Ballard, G Mitch Petrus, OL Jamon Meredith, WR Devin Thomas, DE Alex Hall, DT Linval Joseph
Eagles inactives: QB Mike Kafka, CB Brandon Hughes, LB Stewart Bradley, LB Keenan Clayton, T Austin Howard, DE Derrick Burgess, T Winston Justice, TE Garrett Mills
The first thing of note I’ve seen was this from Adam Schefter via Twitter:
"Colts coach Jim Caldwell is thinking about playing some four WR sets with Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez."
As if three wides and Dallas Clark isn’t enough of a problem.
I automatically started thinking of secondary depth in the division and how it would stack up against that. Nobody in the league has the kind of corner and secondary depth needed to stand up to that personnel grouping with Peyton Manning at the controls.
The Texans and Titans are definitely in the market for a cornerback, and safety is also in play. The Jaguars likely take a defensive back or two as well in the draft.
Teams could obviously use an additional safety in the sort of dime scenarios this could force. Here’s our take on the depth at defensive back for each of the Colts’ division opponents:
Nickel: Glover Quin, Jacques Reeves, Brice McCain.
Dime candidates: Cornerbacks Fred Bennett, Antwaun Molden; Safeties Dominique Barber, Troy Nolan.
Assessment: Contemplating this secondary against the Colts’ four-wide lineup is scary right now. Throw Clark in as the fifth skill player and I don’t know how Houston holds up. Corner and free safety are big draft needs.
Nickel: Rashean Mathis, Derek Cox, Tyron Brackenridge.
Dime candidates: Corners William Middleton, Kennard Cox, Michael Coe; whichever safety isn’t already playing out of Reggie Nelson, Anthony Smith, Sean Considine.
Assessment: Top three are pretty solid, but safety really needs to be sorted out and could have a new piece.
Nickel: Cortland Finnegan, Ryan Mouton, Vincent Fuller.
Dime candidates: Corners Rod Hood and Jason McCourty; safety Donnie Nickey.
Assessment: I am giving the nod as the second starting corner to Mouton right now based on hearing the team is high on him. A draft pick needs to compete for that spot. Overall depth is unproven.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Questions? Comments? Complaints? Critiques? I want them all, so feel free to drop a note in the mailbag.
I'll be with the Jags again Wednesday, then en route to Terre Haute, Ind., for the conclusion of the Colts' camp Thursday and Friday.
Let's take a morning lap around the division.
- John McClain says the expectations for tight end Owen Daniels are on the rise.
- Houston special teams coach tells Jacoby Jones that, "he's got to quit playing street ball." Dale Robertson looks at the maddening return man/receiver.
- The Texans practice against the Saints in Louisiana Wednesday.
- Mike Hart's measurables aren't great, but his production has been, according to Mike Chappell.
- The Colts couldn't wait two months for defensive back Michael Coe to heal, and waived him.
- Linebacker Clint Sessions talks about returning from a calf injury, courtesy of Colts.com.
- The Jaguars have tried but failed to get a true No. 1 receiver on their roster and are content with spreading things around, writes Vito Stellino.
- Derrick Harvey's holdout pulls into a tie for the franchise with Byron Leftwich with a 19th day today, the Times-Union reports. There are no signs of an end to the stalemate.
- Cole Pepper handicaps the Jaguars receivers' chances of sticking on the roster.
- A lot of people who write about teams in this division, have done voluminous work. But I think Jim Wyatt has cranked out more copy than anybody through camp. Today he looks at detente in the Titans' locker room after a music war.
- Vince Young passed out copies of Madden 09 hours after its release, on what teammate Paul Williams dubbed a "national holiday for males between the ages of 15-30."
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Before I figure where my delayed flight and missed connection will leave me tonight, let's have a look around the division, shall we?
Andre Johnson isn't practicing when the Texans are inside on turf.
John McClain looks at two Texans, Darrell Green and Emmitt Thomas, who become hall of Famers Saturday.
Megan Manfull discusses the Texans' running backs and looks for you to share your opinions.
Bob Kravitz has some fun with the idea of hiding Peyton Manning during his rehab from knee surgery. Kravitz also shares a touching story about a lost pair of shorts -- it could make you tear up. I was on the radio with him Friday. He doesn't sound excited about Beijing.
As Indianapolis prepares for the league's preseason curtain-raiser in Canton, Mike Chappell considers which current Colts have Hall of Fame credentials. He polled several selectors as well as John Madden. Interesting split on Bill Polian. I agree with Peter King on this one.
Third-round linebacker Philip Wheeler needs knee surgery and will miss at least a couple weeks, while cornerback Michael Coe could also need an operation, Chappell reports.
Two undrafteds to keep an eye on, according to Phillip B. Wilson, are defensive tackle Eric Foster and defensive end Curtis Johnson.
Anthony Gonzalez knows Canton well.
Jim Sorgi has started preseason games before, so he will try to treat Sunday night as business as usual, according to Colts.com.
Brad Meester will miss eight to 10 weeks after surgery to repair a torn right biceps and Reggie Williams will be out two or three weeks after a knee scope, reports Michael C. Wright.
A check in on Khalif Barnes versus Richard Collier for Jacksonville's left tackle job. It's a matter of trust.
Some scrimmage notes from the Times-Union.
Some wrap-up thoughts after I spent two days with the Jaguars.
Redo the top 10 in the first-round of the 2005 draft and Lofa Tatupu is a Tennessee Titan, says Alex Marvez at FoxSports.com. We call Alex Mr. President, as he's the top man in the Pro Football Writers of America.
Michael Griffin is learning a lot from Chris Hope, says Jessica Hopp, who could become Jessica Bliss any day now if her office email catches up to her marital status.
Practicing at night under new practice-field lights energized the Titans, Jim Wyatt tells us.
A week into Titans camp, Wyatt shares his three best guys on each side of the ball.
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