NFL Nation: Ramses Barden

TAMPA, Fla. -- Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano doesn’t usually flash his sense of humor to the media, but that changed a bit Friday.

Talking about the challenge of playing in a noisy Georgia Dome, Schiano fired off a one liner.

“If it’s any louder than it is today it will be an OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] restriction and they’ll probably have to call the game,’’ Schiano said.

Going into the Georgia Dome is always a challenge, but it might be even more significant for the Bucs because this will be the first road start for rookie quarterback Mike Glennon.

“I don’t think many people are comfortable in the Georgia Dome with the noise and all those things,’’ Schiano said. “Our confidence always comes from preparation and I think we’ve had a good week of preparation. It’s not done yet. I think our guys have practiced well and they should be confident in that.’’

In injury news, wide receiver Mike Williams (hamstring) and guard Davin Joseph (knee) both took part in practice. Williams said he fully expects to play Sunday. Schiano said running back/return man Jeff Demps, who had groin surgery earlier this week, should be able to return later this season.

The Bucs also worked out several free-agent wide receivers, including former New York Giants player Ramses Barden. Schiano said the team just was doing due diligence on some prospects.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Damontre Moore is expected to miss another preseason game with a shoulder injury.

Moore was on the Giants' list of players not expected to play tonight against the Patriots in the preseason finale. Wide receiver Ramses Barden (knee), cornerback Jayron Hosley (ankle), fullback Henry Hynoski (knee), center David Baas (knee), tackle David Diehl (thumb), defensive tackle Markus Kuhn (knee/PUP), wide receiver Victor Cruz (heel) and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (back) are not expected to play.

Safety Antrel Rolle (ankle) is in uniform and likely will play.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Thursday will mark exactly two years since the last time New York Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas played in a football game. On Aug. 22, 2011, Thomas, tore the ACL in his right knee in a preseason game against the Bears. He tore it again in training camp last year -- the third time in his career he's torn the same vital ligament -- and missed a second straight season. But after yet another grueling rehab, Thomas is looking good in practice and is set to play in Saturday's preseason game against the Jets.

[+] EnlargeTerrell Thomas
AP Photo/Evan PinkusAfter two years of rehabbing ACL tears, Terrell Thomas is ready to play in another game.
"He's going to go, yeah," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Wednesday, after a practice in which Thomas snagged one interception and saw another bounce off his hands. "He looked good yesterday, too. Really moved well out there today."

Thomas says he has worked mainly as the nickel corner so far in camp, but has been also playing some on the outside and "studying the safety position" in case there are packages in which they can use him as a safety. With starting cornerback Corey Webster sidelined due to knee and groin problems, Aaron Ross has been running with the first team at corner, but Thomas has seen his practice opportunities increase along with his strength and confidence.

"Whatever they need me to do, they know I'm that utility type of player," Thomas said before practice Tuesday. "My biggest thing is just getting back on the field. I haven't played in two years. My goals of starting and getting back in the lineup and doing all that, yeah, those are my goals. But first I've got to get on the field. That's foremost. And whatever capacity they want me in, I'll do it."

My take: Thomas' story is an easy one to root for, and a lot of people around here are. To say nothing of how valuable he could be if he could approach the form he showed as a starter in 2010, there's an awful lot to admire about a guy who was willing to put himself through a third ACL rehab. I spoke with Thomas for a while Tuesday, and I'll have more on him in a story that will post later this week.

Reshuffled O-line... again: After the announcement that offensive lineman David Diehl would need thumb surgery and be out six weeks, the Giants moved Kevin Boothe back to left guard and Jim Cordle to center with the first-team offensive line Wednesday. Starting center David Baas is out with a knee injury, and the initial plan was to move Diehl from right tackle to left guard, Boothe to center and play first-round rookie Justin Pugh at right tackle. But the Diehl injury forced another change, and Cordle is getting a chance to show what he can do after filling in for Baas in Sunday night's game against the Colts.

"Cordle played very well the other night, so we thought that was the best move for now," Coughlin said. "We're really excited about the way Cordle played the other night. Hopefully he'll keep on going."

My take: I was surprised they didn't leave Boothe at center and go with James Brewer at left guard. It's possible they want to keep working Brewer at tackle in case Pugh doesn't turn out to be ready. It's possible they expect Baas back for the opener and want to leave Boothe alone and let him play guard. Heck, it's possible they're really fired up about Cordle. Nothing's set in stone. If these guys don't play well in their new spots, the Giants won't be shy about making more changes.

The rookie: Pugh said he doesn't know whether he's auditioning for a starting spot or whether he's got one now to lose, but he believes he can handle the role regardless.

"I'm ready," he said. "[Offensive line coach Pat] Flaherty's definitely making sure I'm covering all the bases and going over game film, and this week the extra things the Jets bring to the table. It's exciting that I get out there and get to play, and getting out there for the game will give me valuable experience, which is something that I need coming back from the concussion."

My take: The Giants don't rush their draft picks, even the first-rounders. If Pugh looks like he can be their starter at right tackle, he probably keeps the job even once Diehl returns. But if not, they're not going to leave him out there to take his lumps just because he was this year's first-round pick. And I'm skeptical, since all I heard pre-draft was that Pugh was better off as a guard than as a tackle at the NFL level. But we'll all find out together.

Notes: Coughlin said injured cornerback Corey Webster was dealing with a knee injury as well as the groin problem that's been holding him out of action... Wide receivers Victor Cruz, Ramses Barden and Louis Murphy all missed practice with their injuries, which resulted in a lot of opportunities for Jerrel Jernigan, who worked everywhere and is an interesting option as the slot receiver while Cruz recovers from his heel injury... Justin Tuck, who left Sunday's game with a hamstring injury, practiced for the second straight day and appears fine.

Giants are still all about Eli Manning

October, 1, 2012
PHILADELPHIA -- We may have been lulled to sleep a little bit by the New York Giants' easy Week 3 victory over the Panthers. Not that they're not a good team, because I still think they are, but that game didn't really test the important stuff. It was too easy for them to run the ball, to complete short passes against soft coverage in the middle of the field. The Giants aren't about winning when it's easy. That's not what reveals who they are. The Giants are about the close games, about passing the toughest tests, and Sunday night they fell just the tiniest bit short of passing an important early-season test against the Eagles.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
Al Bello/Getty ImagesEli Manning was unable to rally the Giants Sunday night.
In the end, it was not a missed field goal that cost them. Lawrence Tynes isn't there to make 54-yard field goals. That's not his game. The mistake that cost the Giants, as Ian O'Connor writes for, was the bad throw and bad decision one play earlier by quarterback Eli Manning that led to Ramses Barden's offensive pass interference call and pushed the game-winning field goal attempt out of Tynes' range. This is a rare thing these days -- a costly fourth-quarter mistake by Manning -- and so it stands out.

But what really comes through when you break it down this way is how reliant the Giants are on Manning, especially in the fourth quarter. Much like the Eagles, who are 3-1 in spite of a whole host of well-chronicled ball-security and drive-finishing problems, the Giants are a team still finding its 2012 footing. Andre Brown's breakout against Carolina aside, they still struggle to run the ball. Their defense, beset by early-season injuries in the secondary and the linebacking corps, ranks in the bottom half of the league. For goodness' sake, they have only eight sacks in four games. These are the Giants we're talking about here. There are 16 teams in the league that have more sacks so far this year than do the Justin Tuck/Osi Umenyiora/Jason Pierre-Paul Giants.

Not that these things can't or won't get better. The offensive line looks as though it's improving. Pierre-Paul is still terrorizing backfields and disrupting things even as the sack totals stay low. There's little reason not to think a big pass-rush game is somewhere on the Giants' horizon. But in the meantime, this is still a team that leans hard on Manning's ability to win them a close game against a divisional rival in the fourth quarter. And on Sunday night, he did not make the play.

"Looking back on it, I had the corner up top and I should have tried to throw to Barden's back shoulder to keep it away from the corner," Manning said. "I would have rather not thrown it so far down the field to cause the pass interference."

It was one of two costly throws by the usually reliable Manning, along with the end-zone interception to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie that killed an earlier drive. If he'd made just one of those two throws -- or thrown the ball away instead on either of them -- then we're likely sitting here today and writing about how the Giants are rolling and the Eagles can't finish off drives. Instead, it's the Eagles who are 3-1 in spite of a host of early-season issues their deep, talented roster has been able to overcome. And the Giants are 0-2 in the division.

That's how razor-thin the margins are in the NFL, and it's for that reason that Manning usually gives the Giants the advantage. He's shown a fearless willingness and ability to make all of the tough fourth-quarter throws and to cash in close games that help determine the outcome of a season. When he does not, it's a bit of a shock, and right now it's something the rest of the roster cannot overcome. He made them all in Week 2 against Tampa Bay. On Sunday night, he didn't.

There is no fresh reason to doubt or worry about Manning. He's still the same clutch quarterback who's won the Giants two Super Bowls, and they'll continue to believe, every time they get into a close fourth-quarter scrap, that there's no one they'd rather have trying to bail them out of it. But his inability to do so in this game served as a reminder of how far these 2012 Giants have to go before they're as good as they can be. And it showed once again that, when it comes down to it, Manning has to win them the big game, because the rest of the team right now doesn't have enough to win it for him.

Rapid Reaction: Eagles 19, Giants 17

September, 30, 2012
PHILADELPHIA -- A few thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles' key divisional victory over the New York Giants on Sunday night at Lincoln Financial Field.

What it means: In spite of all of their early-season struggles, Michael Vick and the Eagles are 3-1 and on top in the NFC East with a game in hand against their fiercest rivals and the defending division and Super Bowl champions. For the Giants, it means the Eagles still have their number. They've now lost eight of their past nine games against Philadelphia and, perhaps more importantly, are 0-2 this year against NFC East opponents.

Protecting the ball: When the Eagles commit to the run and do not turn the ball over, they can be as good as any team in the league. After a stop-and-start offensive first half, the Eagles came out running with LeSean McCoy in the second half and had tremendous success with it. Their issue on offense was an inability to finish drives and turn their hard work into touchdowns instead of settling for field goals. That's what left the Giants with the late-game opportunity to march down the field and take the lead in the fourth quarter. After turning the ball over 12 times in their first three games (and yet somehow winning two of them), the Eagles did not turn the ball over once Sunday night, and they beat the Super Bowl champs.

Eli Manning does not play favorites: The Giants' quarterback tells his receivers that, if they run their routes and get open, they will get opportunities to catch the ball. With Hakeem Nicks out last week, Ramses Barden got his catches and yards on slant routes all night. With Nicks out again Sunday, Domenik Hixon went over 100 yards receiving and Bear Pascoe caught a touchdown in the fourth quarter to give the Giants their first lead of the game. Manning makes his receivers better, and maximizes their ability to produce in their specific roles and circumstances. He completed passes to eight different players Sunday night.

Mr. Wilson: I think Giants fans need to get used to the idea of first-round pick David Wilson as a developmental player who needs more work and practice before he's a factor in the run game. There's actually nothing wrong with that. The Giants like Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown and have a good track record of developing young, talented players. In the meantime, though, Wilson looks as though he's become a real weapon in the kick-return game.

The Prince: Last year's Giants first-rounder, Prince Amukamara, is playing very well at cornerback. He covered Jeremy Maclin most of the night, and Maclin didn't catch one pass in the first 55 minutes of the game. Amukamara looks like a good technician, and the Eagles seemed very comfortable testing out Corey Webster with DeSean Jackson rather than picking on Amukamara as many teams have so far in his short career. Amukamara could be a real asset to a banged-up secondary that lost safety Kenny Phillips to a knee injury in the first quarter.

What's next: The Giants will host the 0-4 Cleveland Browns on Sunday at 1 pm ET in East Rutherford, N.J., and should pound them senseless. The Eagles will travel to Pittsburgh for a 1 p.m. ET game against the 1-2 Steelers, who were off this week.

Hakeem Nicks in doubt for Eagles game

September, 28, 2012
When New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks had to miss last Thursday's game in Carolina due to his foot injury, the thought was that the week and a half off before the Week 4 game would provide enough time to get him healthy. However, Nicks showed up on the Giants' injury report Friday as "doubtful" for Sunday's game in Philadelphia, having added a knee problem to the foot injury that's troubled him since spring.

The designation is a surprise, as through Thursday Nicks appeared to be following his normal practice plan and on track to play in the key divisional showdown. And while they haven't ruled him out just yet and might not decide on his status until just before the game, popping up as doubtful with a new injury on Friday is not a sure recipe for being 100 percent by game time Sunday.

Should Nicks have to miss his second game in a row, either Domenik Hixon, Ramses Barden or some combination of the two would pick up the slack. Barden had the big game last week in Carolina while Hixon also sat out after suffering a concussion the week before, but Hixon is back for this game, and the two of them together could help take some of the pressure off of Victor Cruz.

Regardless, losing Nicks for this game would be a hit. Philadelphia isn't the same kind of pushover on defense that the Panthers were last week. Carolina chose to double-team Cruz while Barden ate them alive, but the Eagles have more coverage weapons to make life difficult for Eli Manning and his backup receivers if need be.

Quick look at award-winning Fitzgerald

September, 26, 2012
Larry Fitzgerald is the NFC's offensive player of the week after playing a key role in the Arizona Cardinals' 27-6 victory against Philadelphia.

Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald's key 37-yard scoring reception and the Cardinals' 3-0 record combined to make him a worthy choice even though his nine catches for 114 yards did not represent an off-the-charts statistical line by his elevated standards.

Somewhat amazingly, Fitzgerald never won the weekly NFC award during his first 116 career games. He has now won it twice in his past 11 games.

The chart, from ESPN Stats & Information, ranks wide receivers by yardage totals for Week 3. Note that Fitzgerald caught all nine passes thrown his way.

Congrats to those of you who left Fitzgerald in your fantasy lineups following a slow first couple games. That list would include my 7-year-old son, but not my wife. Live and learn. The great ones produce eventually.

Related: Chris Brown's piece for on Fitzgerald's big play against the Eagles.

All-NFC East Team: Week 3 Update

September, 26, 2012
Yes, we have a change at the quarterback position this week, and that's the position about which everyone seems to get the most excited. But it wasn't that difficult a decision, really. Through three games, Eli Manning has 264 more passing yards, a marginally lower completion percentage and one more touchdown that Robert Griffin III. He's thrown three interceptions to Griffin's one, but these things happen when you actually throw the ball down the field. He has also taken five fewer sacks. It was close last week and remains close this week, but Manning has surpassed the rookie in terms of overall body of work in 2012.

The tougher call was actually at running back. By now you all should know about the disclaimer that no one ever reads: This is an All-Division Team based on overall season performance to date. It is not -- repeat, NOT -- simply an All-Star team based on the previous week's performance. This is why Ramses Barden is not on it.

However, the team's running back is the Giants' Andre Brown, who has only played a game and a half. He won out over the Eagles' LeSean McCoy and the Redskins' Alfred Morris, each of whom has been a starter for all three games this season. Brown's addition to the team would seem to fly directly in the face of the aforementioned disclaimer, and in order for him to make the team I would have to be convinced that his six-quarter performance was more impressive than what Morris and McCoy have done in their 12. Fact is, I was.

Brown has 79 fewer rushing yards than Morris and 77 fewer than McCoy. But his yards-per-carry average of 5.6 is far better than their 4.3 and 4.5. He has three touchdowns, which ties Morris and is two more than McCoy. He has no fumbles, and neither does Morris, but McCoy has two. It was Morris, and not McCoy, who was Brown's closest competition for this week's honor, and the simple fact is that I think Brown has been the better runner this season. It was a difficult call, and with the return of Ahmad Bradshaw likely this week, I have to imagine this is Brown's only appearance on this list, but I thought he deserved it based on the overall performance of everyone in the division in the first three weeks of the season. Had either of the other two been performing at a standout level, it would have been impossible for Brown to overtake them after a game and a half. But neither is (and yes, I know you can argue that McCoy's issue is one of limited opportunity), so Brown gets the nod because he has.

Here's the team, which this week includes nine Giants, eight Eagles, five Redskins and five Cowboys, and I have some more observations down at the bottom:

Quarterback: Eli Manning, New York Giants (Last week: Robert Griffin III)

Running back: Andre Brown, Giants (LeSean McCoy)

Wide receiver: Victor Cruz, Giants; Miles Austin, Dallas Cowboys (Cruz, Hakeem Nicks)

Tight end: Martellus Bennett, Giants (Brent Celek)

Fullback: Darrel Young, Washington Redskins (Young)

Left tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins (Williams)

Left guard: Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles (Mathis)

Center: Will Montgomery, Redskins (Montgomery)

Right guard: Chris Snee, Giants (Snee)

Right tackle: Todd Herremans, Eagles (Herremans)

Defensive end: Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants; Jason Babin, Eagles (Pierre-Paul, Jason Hatcher)

Defensive tackle: Cullen Jenkins, Eagles; Rocky Bernard, Giants (Bernard, Fletcher Cox)

Outside linebacker: Ryan Kerrigan, Redskins; Mychal Kendricks, Eagles (Kerrigan, DeMarcus Ware)

Inside linebacker: DeMeco Ryans, Eagles; Sean Lee, Cowboys (Ryans, Lee)

Cornerback: Brandon Carr, Cowboys; Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Eagles (Rodgers-Cromartie, Josh Wilson)

Safety: Kenny Phillips, Giants; Gerald Sensabaugh, Cowboys (Phillips, Sensabaugh)

Kicker: Lawrence Tynes, Giants (Billy Cundiff)

Punter: Chris Jones, Cowboys (Jones)

Kick returner: Brandon Banks, Redskins (David Wilson)

Punt returner: Damaris Johnson, Eagles (Brandon Banks)
  • Carr takes his place at cornerback, supplanting Wilson after Wilson's tough game against Cincinnati. Wilson is actually having a very good season overall, but Carr hasn't had one bad play that I've seen, and he gets good-teammate bonus points for moving over to safety once Barry Church went out. Carr has shut down opposing receivers in all three games, and his work against Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson on Sunday was his best yet.
  • Sorry, Jason Hatcher. It might be unfair, but as a 3-4 defensive end you almost have to be over-the-top great to hold off the 4-3 sack artists. Hatcher barely beat out Babin (and fellow 3-4 end Stephen Bowen) last week, but Babin's three-game tape is simply more impressive. Could be because of the difference in the position they play, but dem's the breaks.
  • On the flip side, Ware hasn't looked like his usual horrifying self yet this season, and while I imagine he'll come back and take his spot, Kendricks deserves this mention for the way he's played consistently as a 4-3 outside linebacker in all three Eagles' games. Along with Ryans, he's a huge part of the reason for this season's defensive improvements.
  • Bennett has been a monster blocker and has caught a touchdown pass in all three games. Cowboys fans can scoff, and justifiably doubt whether it will continue. But through three games, he's been a difference-maker at tight end for the Giants.
  • Trent Williams left Sunday's game with a knee injury in the first quarter, which would have opened up this team's left tackle spot if anybody had been close behind him. But no one has been, as tackle continues to be a huge problem division-wide. Will Beatty of the Giants played it the best this week, but that was only one game, and Williams was excellent in the first two.
  • The kicker decision wasn't easy, as Cundiff continues to hammer touchback after touchback and has made every one of his field goal attempts inside 62 yards. But Tynes is 10-for-10 on field goals, and for me that's better by enough than Cundiff's 5-for-6 to overcome Cundiff's proficiency on kickoffs.

That's what I've got for this week. I welcome your thoughts, as always.

Giants throw a 2009 class party

September, 21, 2012

If the New York Giants' 2009 draft had produced nothing of value other than first-rounder Hakeem Nicks, it certainly wouldn't have been the worst thing ever to happen to the franchise. Nicks has blossomed into one of the best wide receivers in the NFL -- a reliable and electric target for Eli Manning, and a major contributor to the Giants' fourth Super Bowl championship.

But scouts and general managers and personnel people work hard on their drafts and want them to be deep with productive players. They want to be able to point back to a draft and say, "See? Look how many useful guys we got that year." And this is why Thursday night's 36-7 victory against the Carolina Panthers had to be as much fun for Giants GM Jerry Reese as any regular-season game he's ever seen.

Nicks was on the shelf, first of all, which is the great irony of this point: Three of the game's most important surprise stars were also members of that same 2009 draft class. Tackle Will Beatty, who was their second pick in that year's second round, returned from an injury-ravaged offseason and was outstanding as the offensive line played its best game of the year. Wide receiver Ramses Barden, the first of that year's two third-round picks, started in Nicks' place and caught nine passes for 138 yards. And running back Andre Brown, who was their fourth-round pick in 2009, got injured that year and has since been cut eight times by NFL teams including twice by the Giants, ran for 113 yards and two touchdowns in place of injured running back Ahmad Bradshaw.

Per Ohm Youngmisuk of
Reese said he doesn't always subscribe to the theory that a player usually has to show something by his third season in the league. Some are just late-bloomers.

"I have seen a lot of guys after their third year enter their fourth year and turn it on," Reese said. "Amani Toomer comes to mind. His first three years, he was trying to get it, trying to get it.

"In his fourth year, he was lights out," Reese continued. "He was one of the all-time great receivers. It is not always a three-year rule with guys."

It is not, but it came pretty close. The Giants did give up on Brown twice, and he had to beat out D.J. Ware in camp to make this year's team as a backup. Barden also entered the preseason on the roster bubble, but won his spot with an excellent camp. Beatty has been anointed the left tackle of the future for the Giants, but his play in that role was spotty last year before an eye injury ended his season prematurely, and it's been easy to detect the organization's frustration with him as he's struggled with a back injury this summer. Even once he returned healthy, Beatty found himself on the bench, and it took an injury to David Diehl to get him back into the starting lineup.

So a lot of this is luck and fate, and it's not exactly as simple as crediting the Giants for staying patient with their guys. But they're more patient than most organizations are, and Thursday offered them a chance to feel good about that. The stability they've established at the ownership, GM and coach level -- along with the success they've had -- allows the Giants to run their team without the panicky, knee-jerk issues that afflict so many of the league's franchises in this win-now-or-else era. They believe in their program. They believe in player development. They believe, stubbornly, that when they have a hole to fill they can generally fill it with someone in their own locker room.

This is worth remembering for Giants fans who start to get impatient with players like Prince Amukamara and David Wilson. The Giants don't necessarily draft guys to make an instant impact. It's nice when they do, sure, but for every Jason Pierre-Paul there's a Kenny Phillips. For every Mathias Kiwanuka an Eli Manning. Some guys hit it big right away. Others need to play and learn and develop and improve. It's that latter group that the Giants believe forms the backbone of what they do. And on Thursday night, they got to watch that philosophy pay off with a big, fun and decisive win.

How the Panthers lost to the Giants

September, 21, 2012
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – With some help from ESPN Stats & Information, let’s take a look at how the Carolina Panthers lost, 36-7, to the New York Giants at Bank of America Stadium on Thursday night.
  • Carolina quarterback Cam Newton didn’t handle the Giants’ blitz very well. When facing five or more pass-rushers, Newton was 5 of 10 for 83 yards with two interceptions. Newton entered the game second in the league with a 72.7 completion percentage against the blitz. New York’s Eli Manning, meanwhile, was much more efficient against the blitz. He completed 7 of 8 passes for 74 yards and a touchdown when facing five or more pass-rushers.
  • Carolina’s defense, which had a horrible game, was particularly bad in the secondary. Rookie cornerback Josh Norman and safety Haruki Nakamura struggled all night -- despite the Giants being without starting receiver Hakeem Nicks. Ramses Barden stepped in and had the game of his life, catching nine passes to match his reception total for the entire 2011 season. Barden caught all seven of his targets between the numbers for 114 yards.
  • Manning ate up Carolina’s secondary downfield. On passes that traveled 10 yards or more, Manning was 7 of 9 for 135 yards and a touchdown. He’s averaging 15.4 yards per attempt on throws of that distance, which ranks him second in the NFL behind Robert Griffin III.
  • Barden wasn’t the only New York replacement to burn Carolina’s defense. Andre Brown stepped in for the injured Ahmad Bradshaw and rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. Carolina’s tackling was particularly bad against Brown and the running game. Brown finished with 71 yards after initial contact; 63 of those yards came in the first half as the Giants jumped out to a 20-0 lead.

Defense still holding Panthers back

September, 21, 2012
Andre BrownAP Photo/Bob LeveroneAndre Brown and the Giants exposed Haruki Nakamura (43), Josh Norman -- and Carolina's whole D.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Carolina Panthers got their best defensive player back from injury, patched the middle of their defensive line, picked up the best linebacker in the draft and found an alleged “steal’’ at cornerback in the fifth round.

Put all that together with talent like defensive end Charles Johnson and cornerback Chris Gamble and it was supposed to add up to a team that’s a playoff contender.

It might be time to re-think that.

After watching Carolina’s defense in a 36-7 loss to the New York Giants at Bank of America Stadium on Thursday night, I think the Panthers look a lot more like the 6-10 team they were a year ago.

Their defense looked worse than last season. Their defense was horrible.

“We missed tackles," Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. “We were soft in coverage. You can’t do that against a good football team."

No doubt the defending Super Bowl champions are a good team. But the fact is the Panthers can’t play this kind of defense and have any chance of going to the postseason.

The Giants weren’t even a fully loaded team. Starting receiver Hakeem Nicks, starting running back Ahmad Bradshaw and starting tackle David Diehl missed the game due to injuries.

Like it mattered?

Andre Brown stepped in for Bradshaw and ran for 113 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. Ramses Barden stepped into Nicks’ spot and produced nine catches for 138 yards. Raise your hand if you had heard of Brown or Barden before Thursday night.

Yeah, it helped that they were playing with quarterback Eli Manning. But it was Carolina’s defense that turned Brown and Barden into superstars.

The Giants scored on their first four drives and had a 20-0 lead by halftime and the game was pretty much over. Heck, it might have been over by the time the Giants built a 10-0 lead with 3:46 left in the first quarter.

“You get smacked in the face, you have to turn around and throw a punch," Rivera said. “Sometimes, we don’t know how."

That’s the really disappointing part -- that the Panthers don’t know how to throw a punch. The whole offseason was supposed to be about the defense getting better.

Middle linebacker Jon Beason, the leader of the defense, was coming back from missing most of last season with an injury. Same for defensive tackle Ron Edwards. The Panthers went out and drafted linebacker Luke Kuechly in the first round and they’re starting fifth-round pick Josh Norman at cornerback. They also brought in free-agent safety Haruki Nakamura and defensive tackle Dwan Edwards.

That was supposed to fix everything. Instead, it looks like the Panthers fixed nothing.

“One thing we’re trying to do is get out of this rut," Rivera said. “We’re trying to get away from how things used to be and trying to create a vibe. We’d love to have that type of vibe a team like the Giants have."

The only vibe coming out of this game was a bad one.

“If I was a fan of the Carolina Panthers, I would be holding my head down in shame at the product that was out there," quarterback Cam Newton said.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images"If I was a fan of the Carolina Panthers, I would be holding my head down in shame at the product that was out there," Cam Newton said.
Newton (16 of 30 for 242 yards and three interceptions) and the offense were far from perfect, but they weren’t the root of all evil. The offense never had a chance because the defense was so bad from the very start.

“We never stopped the bleeding on defense," Carolina cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “They came out and did everything they wanted. Nobody really made a play tonight."

Maybe the Panthers can turn it around. Maybe the defense can bounce back and Carolina can contend for a playoff berth for the first time since 2008.

But it’s not looking really promising right now. It’s looking as if the Panthers should have done a lot more to patch up their defense in the offseason. Maybe Ron Edwards really is just a guy. Maybe there was a reason why Buffalo released Dwan Edwards at the start of the preseason.

Maybe the Panthers, who like to preach about building through the draft, should have drafted a good interior defensive lineman sometime in the last few years. Heck, the last good defensive tackle they drafted was Kris Jenkins in 2001. George Seifert was calling the shots then, so you have to assume the Panthers fell into that one.

Kuechly overran several plays against the Giants, just as he did in the first two games. Norman got lit up by New York’s receivers.

“I thought Josh Norman was a little soft and that’s uncharacteristic of him," Rivera said.

Makes you wonder if starting a fifth-round pick at cornerback right off the bat really is a good idea. Then there’s Nakamura. The Panthers went out and signed him simply because he was Ed Reed’s backup in Baltimore.

There was a reason why Nakamura was a backup in Baltimore. Go look at the film from Thursday night. Watch him standing still 30 yards off the line of scrimmage and not giving the cornerbacks any help. Watch the angles he took on a couple of tackle attempts that didn’t even come close to being successful. I'm having a hard time believing that Sherrod Martin, who was benched in favor of Nakamura, is any worse.

“What this was was a lesson that you get from your big brother," Rivera said. “They came in and slapped you around and dragged you through the gravel a little bit."

Yep, even after all that offseason work, Carolina’s defense is still the little brother. If that defense doesn’t somehow grow up soon, it’s going to be another long season in Carolina.

At long last, Giants get a laugher

September, 21, 2012
It had been quite a while since the New York Giants won a game as easily as they beat the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night. Turns out, all they needed to do was hand the ball off to Andre Brown and throw it to Ramses Barden.

With their starting running back and best wide receiver injured and unable to play, the Giants were forced to turn to a pair of little-used backups from the middle rounds of their 2009 draft. But with a steady-as-ever Eli Manning directing the offense, Brown rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns while Barden caught nine passes for 138 yards in a 36-7 Giants victory in Carolina.

Let's start with Brown, who ran hard and with power behind an offensive line that hasn't been able to open holes in the run game for Ahmad Bradshaw at all over the past year-plus. Carolina's run defense has been one of the worst in the league this season, and that clearly had something to do with Brown's success, but Bradshaw has run against poor defenses, too, and he hasn't had as many as 113 rushing yards in a game since Oct. 25, 2010. The Giants used Brown in a very specific way, a lot of draw plays and straight-ahead running that took advantage of his power style. But he also ran with patience, showed some burst when he needed to and found the holes he needed to find.

It's possible this line Thursday, with David Diehl injured, Will Beatty back at left tackle and Sean Locklear at right tackle, just blocked better than it's been blocking in the other alignment. But it's also possible Brown is running better right now than Bradshaw is. And if Bradshaw is recovered from his neck injury in time for the Giants' Week 4 game in Philadelphia 10 days from now, the Giants might still be looking to reward Brown's performance with an increased number of snaps. Maybe they will rotate carries now the way Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs used to. Heck, maybe Brown just went Lou Gehrig to Bradshaw's Wally Pipp. We shall see, but whatever the reason, it's been a long time since the Giants' run game looked as good as it did in this game.

Brown was the fourth-round pick of the Giants' 2009 draft and kept coming back after being cut twice. Barden was the third-round pick in that same draft, and his big problem over his first three years in the league was an inability to stay healthy. He got surpassed by Victor Cruz and had to fight for a roster spot this preseason, but during camp and in preseason games, he looked very good running those slant routes over the middle, using his size to shield the ball from defenders and showing good hands. So he made the team, and that's exactly the way the Giants used him in this game as the starter in place of the injured Hakeem Nicks. With Cruz drawing extra coverage on the other side, Barden was open all through the first half, and Manning kept throwing it to him with great success. Brown's runs and Barden's slants, along with a big game from a tight end, Martellus Bennett (who was supposed to be a run-blocker), helped the Giants march the ball down the field and build a 23-0 lead against a Carolina team whose starters looked overmatched against the Giants' backups.

[+] EnlargeRamses Barden, Martellus Bennett
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneUnlikely heroes Ramses Barden (13) and Martellus Bennett combined for 15 catches for 211 yards and a touchdown -- Bennett's, here.
The Giants believe in maintaining a deep roster, developing players and replenishing their roster from within. A game such as the one they played Thursday night shows the validity of that philosophy. It also shows the value of Manning, who continues to find ways to get the best out of the players around him, no matter who or how experienced they are. Manning was a ho-hum 27-of-35 for 288 yards and a win the Giants get to enjoy for a week and a half before their huge Sept. 30 division matchup in Philadelphia.

Some other thoughts:

Beatty, by the way, was one of the Giants' second-round picks in that same 2009 draft. (Nicks was the first-rounder.) I will watch the game again to make sure, but it seemed he looked very good in his return to the starting lineup. The offensive line was a huge part of this game, in pass protection and in run blocking. And if Beatty is fully healthy at long last, the Giants have a chance to have the line they planned to have all along.

Top cornerback Corey Webster continued his early-season struggles and broke his hand, although he says he'll be ready for Philadelphia. But second-year corner Prince Amukamara played well, as did rookie Jayron Hosley. Amukamara still needs experience and will continue to be picked on while he accumulates it, and he might give up a big play or two here or there. But he's a technically proficient defensive back. He's sharp in his coverages. His footwork looks good. He positions his body well and uses his hands well. He plays the position very well and should be an asset as he continues to develop. Hosley, the Giants' third-round pick this year, plays fast and hard, and stays with the play even when it looks like it's dead. It helped him get an interception and disrupt a Cam Newton pass after Newton juked him on a corner blitz. Hosley looks like a mid-round gem who was ready right away. He injured his hamstring in the game, but it doesn't seem to be too serious.

Safety Antrel Rolle banged his left knee on a camera lens while racing out of bounds near the end zone toward the end of the game. The Giants said after the game that it didn't appear serious, but I wouldn't be surprised if Rolle got an MRI on Friday to be sure. Rolle would be a bad loss, as the Giants don't have much proven depth at safety. But whatever. Nicks and Bradshaw should have been bad losses, too, and their replacements combined for 268 total yards from scrimmage Thursday.

Jason Pierre-Paul. There's just not much left to say. He's playing defense as well as any player in the league right now, and offenses are having a miserable time trying to even slow him down. His early batted passes had to be a big reason Newton couldn't get into a rhythm.

Observation deck: Patriots-Giants

August, 30, 2012

I don't know why New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin played his starting offense for four series in Wednesday night's 6-3 preseason victory over the New England Patriots. It's kind of accepted that you're not supposed to play your veteran starters in the final preseason game, and it does seem silly to risk injury to them with a week left before the first game that actually counts. But Coughlin knows what he's doing, and he tends to do it his way. And hey, maybe Eli Manning really is indestructible -- and while we just joke about it, Coughlin knows for sure.

Anyway, everybody came out of it fine, including star wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, who only played the first two series as he got his first game action of the preseason. Nicks didn't show any effects from the foot fracture he suffered in the spring, and he should be good to go next Wednesday night against the Cowboys.

As for this game, in the four series he played, Manning didn't look in sync with his receivers, the offensive line looked awful in run-blocking and (likely as a result) the running backs didn't show much. No, not even David Wilson. What's it all mean? Absolutely nothing, of course. There's no way the Giants game-planned for this game and no way they were going to put anything on tape Wednesday night that might have been potentially helpful to the Cowboys next week. Manning and his gang will be ready, of that there should be no fear. Not now that they've made it through the preseason games healthy.

What else did we see in this fiasco of a non-game?
  • Defensive end Adewale Ojomo has to make the team, right? I don't know whether that means Adrian Tracy has to go or what, but Ojomo's done nothing to deserve being cut. Another sack, and man did he look good stuffing the run. If these games are ways for off-the-roster guys to make the roster, Ojomo could end up being this year's prime example.
  • While we're on the defensive line, Linval Joseph has flat-out been one of my favorite players to watch in this preseason. He's playing like a man possessed, and between him and Rocky Bernard the Giants shouldn't miss a beat in the first half of games in spite of their injuries at defensive tackle. My only question is if they have the depth they need to spell those guys and make sure they don't wear down in the second half or as the season goes along. But when Joseph is on the field, they have another dimension to the line. He's everywhere making plays right now.
  • The other line? Not so much. Chris Snee and Will Beatty sat this one out with injuries, and the issue with the line continues to be depth. Mitch Petrus had some trouble at guard, and the interior of the line just gets pushed back too easily, especially on run plays. They need to find better ways to extend forward and open some holes for the backs than they did this preseason. And last year, for that matter.
  • Ramses Barden made a highlight-film catch, reaching behind himself and a defender, and continues to impress. Finally healthy and producing, Barden looks like he's got a chance to make the team and an impact. Jerrel Jernigan helps more on special teams, and it's hard to see them cutting him so soon after drafting him so high, but again, Barden has outplayed him.
  • They're still using D.J. Ware as the third-down back, even with Wilson in the game, and that tells you what they think about Ware (and maybe Wilson) in pass protection.
  • I saw some nice plays by linebackers Greg Jones and Mark Herzlich in the third quarter. But I was watching three games at once by that point, so I can't tell you how they looked overall.
  • Can't imagine that Andre Brown fumble makes him feel real good about his chances with 36 hours left until final cuts are due.
  • Steve Weatherford is fantastic. He must really like punting against the Patriots.

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

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.