NFL Nation: Michael Coe

Rapid Reaction: Cowboys 24, Giants 17

September, 5, 2012
9/05/12
11:46
PM ET

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.

Halftime: A tackle makes the big tackle

September, 5, 2012
9/05/12
10:21
PM ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- So much for that high-scoring game we were expecting to open the season between the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants. Both offensive lines have struggled and both defenses have thrived, and Tony Romo's touchdown pass to Kevin Ogletree just before the end of the second quarter has provided the difference as the Cowboys hold a 7-3 halftime lead. But the play of the half was an illegal tackle made by an offensive tackle.

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.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, who's been out since the team's first preseason game with a lacerated spleen, has been cleared by doctors and will play in Wednesday night's regular-season opener against the New York Giants. Witten was on the field during warmups, catching passes from quarterback Tony Romo, and around 7 pm when the inactives were released for the game, Witten's name was not on the Cowboys' list.

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.

Observation deck: Bears-Giants

August, 25, 2012
8/25/12
8:00
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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 news out of New York Giants training camp in Albany on Monday was not good. The team announced that cornerback Terrell Thomas, who is attempting to come back from a second tear of the ACL in his right knee, has suffered another injury to that ligament. They have not announced that it is torn again -- only that he'll have arthroscopic surgery to determine the extent of the injury. But should they go in there with the scope and find that it's torn again, Thomas will have to miss the 2012 season and possibly worry about the remainder of his career.

Thomas
Thomas
"Terrell re-injured his ACL," Giants senior vice president of medical services Ronnie Barnes said in a statement released by the team. "At this point, he will most likely undergo an arthroscopic procedure to determine the extent of the injury to the ACL. However, no decision has been made at this point. Terrell is going to consult with Dr. (Arthur) Ting, who performed an allograft reconstruction of the ACL in September."

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.
ALBANY, N.Y. -- Aaaand we're back. Sorry for the technical difficulties that knocked out the blogs for much of this afternoon. These things do, unfortunately, happen. But things are back up and running now, and I can fill you in on what I saw this afternoon at the New York Giants' first practice of 2012 training camp.
  • 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.

Getting tough to discount Alex Smith, 49ers

November, 13, 2011
11/13/11
11:00
PM ET
Alex SmithKyle Terada/US PresswireThe Giants were able to shut down Frank Gore, but Alex Smith still managed to find a way to win.
SAN FRANCISCO -- There was nothing remotely "elite" about the blue work shirt Alex Smith wore following the San Francisco 49ers' 27-20 victory over the New York Giants in Week 10.

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.

[+] EnlargeDavid Akers
AP Photo/Ben MargotDavid Akers made all four of his field-goal attempts.
As much as Smith earned our attention with his administration of a pass-oriented game plan, the 49ers' formula for success draws strength from its diversity:

  • 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.

Camp Confidential: Giants

August, 14, 2011
8/14/11
12:02
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It's funny to say this about a team that plays where they play, but the New York Giants like it when nobody notices them. They like being forgotten, underestimated, treated as an afterthought. They're OK with the Jets getting all the back-page-tabloid attention and the Eagles being the big offseason story because of their free-agent shopping spree. The Giants believe in their own way of doing things, and if that means lying in the weeds while people on the outside are distracted by other teams that are hot at the moment, that's fine with them.

"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

[+] EnlargeWilliam Beatty
Bruce Kluckhohn/US PresswireThe Giants will have a revamped offensive line that includes William Beatty, left, at left tackle.
1. The new offensive line. When they cut longtime center Shaun O'Hara and guard Rich Seubert on the first day of free agency, the Giants signaled a decision to change an aspect of their team that hadn't changed much over the past six or seven years. They signed free-agent center David Baas from San Francisco, moved Diehl inside, and gave the starting left tackle job to 2009 second-round draft pick William Beatty. So there are questions that must be answered about how quickly the newly configured group can jell, how smooth the relationship between Baas and quarterback Eli Manning will be and, perhaps most importantly, whether Beatty in his third NFL season is ready for the responsibility of protecting Manning's blind side.

"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

[+] EnlargeJonathan Goff
William Perlman/The Star-Ledger via US PresswireJonathan Goff is entering his second season as the starting middle linebacker.
Linebacker has been a weak spot for the Giants the past couple of years. Unable to add outside free agents because of cap concerns, they'll address it by moving Kiwanuka there for first and second downs. But much will still fall on the shoulders of Jonathan Goff, who enters his second season as starter at middle linebacker in the Giants' 4-3 defense. "I'll have better composure this year," Goff said. "Last year, being my first year, was a little bit of a learning experience for me. This year, I think we're all on the same page to move forward as a defense and get better. It's just natural now." Goff is responsible for communicating the calls from the sidelines and for making any front-seven checks. (The coverage checks are the responsibility of the safeties.) He knows he'll need to take a stronger on-field leadership role for the defense to play more consistently this season.

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.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Hixon could be a very important player for the Giants if he's recovered from his knee injury. He showed ability to play that slot receiver position when he was healthy, and will get a chance to show it again, though it seems clear the Giants would like to have multiple options there in case something goes wrong.
  • Linval Joseph, the 2010 second-round pick, would seem to have the playing-time edge at defensive tackle over 2011 second-round pick Marvin Austin. But each brings impressive size and agility to the position, and between them the Giants should be able to capably replace Barry Cofield, who signed with Washington.
  • The starting secondary of Phillips, Antrel Rolle, Terrell Thomas and Corey Webster looks excellent in practice. The question is whether there's enough depth behind those guys if there's an injury. Cornerbacks Michael Coe and Brian Witherspoon and safety Tyler Sash have a chance to earn playing time with Prince Amukamara hurt and Grant not re-signed. Witherspoon has been impressive on special teams and looked good in Saturday's game. Sash appears to be very athletic, but he needs to play with more discipline.
  • Kiwanuka at linebacker is a work in progress. No question he has the ability to play it, but he over-pursued Saturday at times the way a defensive end might.
  • Even before he left Saturday's preseason game with a thigh injury, kicker Lawrence Tynes looked as though he might be cause for concern. Having missed a few practices as he recovers from knee surgery, Tynes was unable to boot kickoffs out of the back of the end zone the way it seems every other kicker in the league has so far this preseason. And he missed a couple of field goals (though the first was a 56-yarder he shouldn't have been asked to try). Worth keeping an eye out to see how he looks the rest of August.
  • As for punters, Matt Dodge has looked better than he did in his difficult rookie season, but it's going to be tough for him to beat out Steve Weatherford, who's just better at the job.
  • Observation deck: Giants-Panthers

    August, 13, 2011
    8/13/11
    11:48
    PM ET
    The New York Giants could have used a feel-good preseason opener Saturday night. No, I don't think you can read much into these preseason games. You don't know which teams are game-planning and which aren't. You can make judgments on individual efforts in certain cases, and get a sense of what teams might be planning in terms of playing time and defensive and offensive alignments. But when we say a team looked good or bad in a preseason game, we are not making any predictions or judgments about the way the season will go based on that.

    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:

    [+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
    AP Photo/Chuck BurtonJason Pierre-Paul nabbed two sacks and could be a viable replacement if Osi Umenyiora continues to sit out.
    1. Pierre-Paul looks like a monster. The Giants' 2010 first-rounder has been getting a lot of snaps with the starters in practice with Osi Umenyiora sitting out, and he looked fantastic Saturday night. Two sacks, pressure on almost every play, quickness off the edge, athleticism, determination -- everything you want in a pass rusher. If Umenyiora wants to continue to sit out because of his contract, the Giants have some tape they can show him of a guy who looks like a very capable replacement. If Umenyiora wants to come back, the Giants have even more depth on the offensive line and can keep Mathias Kiwanuka at linebacker. Pierre-Paul's rapid development would be a very useful thing for the Giants.

    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.

    Asante Samuel will play for Eagles

    December, 19, 2010
    12/19/10
    12:08
    PM ET
    EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Philadelphia Eagles will be back to full strength at cornerback with the return of Pro Bowler Asante Samuel on Sunday against the New York Giants. Samuel was a game-time decision because of a knee injury, but he'll be ready to go. Dimitri Patterson will start on the other side and Joselio Hanson will go back to his nickel role.

    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
    We’ll get some good stuff Tuesday morning out of Orlando, where AFC South coaches are having breakfast with reporters at the owners meetings. I’ll be monitoring what comes out through some of my colleagues who are there.

    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:

    Houston
    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.

    Jacksonville

    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.

    Tennessee

    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.

    Houston Texans

    Indianapolis Colts

    Jacksonville Jaguars

    Tennessee Titans

    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?

    Houston Texans

    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.

    Indianapolis Colts

    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.

    Jacksonville Jaguars

    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.

    Tennessee Titans

    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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