Week 1: Giants 23 -- Redskins 17
Despite the modest six-point margin of victory, this was a very encouraging start to the season for the Giants. We don't know how good the Redskins are going to be, but we do know the Giants looked a lot better than them today, better than six points would indicate. And sure, the Redskins looked awful, but so did they when the Giants beat them 16 to 7 in last year's opener, before turning around and winning five of their next six games. Point being, stifling defenses have a way of making offenses look inept.
What's to like:
The defense, particularly the run defense: On the Redskins first play from scrimmage, Clinton Portis got outside for 34 yards (Osi Umenyiora would later accept the blame for letting Portis get outside). From that point on, Portis carried 15 times for 28 yards. New additions Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard played a lot in the second half, a sign that Jerry Reese's plan to rotate able bodies at defensive tackle is working.
Corey Webster: It's common among NFL pundits to refer to players like Webster as "budding stars." After a year or two of being a budding star, a player can ascend to star status, a distinction that usually comes at the tail end of his prime and lasts a couple years into his decline. So let's skip this nonsensical process and recognize Webster as the star he is, right now. Last year, Webster broke up a league-leading 32.1 percent of the passes thrown in his direction, according to Football Outsiders stats. In his first game of 2009, he made a balletic interception and completely shut down Santana Moss, who caught 2 passes for 6 yards. On the play before, he fought off his block to force Clinton Portis out of bounds on a two-yard gain. Together, the two plays show how far Webster has come since mid-2007.
Osi Umenyiora: Talk about a return to the Osi of old: This touchdown was eerily similar to one he had against the 49ers two years ago, when he stripped Trent Dilfer and ran 75 yards for the score. Osi's well-known athleticism is evidently back. But what's so impressive about these plays is his hand-eye coordination. Think about the controlled swipes he took at the ball in both cases: How many other players have you ever seen who could do that? Now think about the seamless way he picked up the fumble and accelerated. How many football players can do that?
Justin Tuck: Had 1.5 sacks, 5 tackles, and was generally disruptive against the run. After the Hall interception, Tuck dropped Clinton Portis for a 6-yard-loss and sacked Campbell on the next play, leading to a long third down the Redskins didn't convert. With Kiwanuka rotating in and keeping Tuck and Osi fresh, Giants fans have to be excited.
Bill Sheridan: He got a Gatorade shower -- albeit the weakest one I've ever seen, particularly shameful with Harry Carson in the building -- and a hug from Osi. A good start.
Ahmad Bradshaw: Jacobs certainly has his value, but it may be that Bradshaw is our best back against good run defenses. Today, he had 60 yards on 12 carries (5.0 average) compared to Jacobs' 46 yards on 16 carries (2.9). Without Bradshaw, our running game would have been in serious trouble today. And for as much as Bradshaw is portrayed as an unknown quantity by many commentators, remember that he was our best back in the 2007 playoffs: He averaged 4.3 carries to Jacobs' 3.2. However, give Jacobs credit for catching the ball today. He needed to improve that part of his game, and today's signs were encouraging.
Steve Smith: The Little First Down Machine, our best receiver yesterday. Of Smith's six catches, four went for first downs. With the Giants up 20 to 10 with around 10 minutes left in the game, Smith caught two consecutive passes -- including a beautiful grab in traffic -- that took the Giants into Redskins territory. This allowed the G-Men to wind down the clock and kick a field goal that all but iced the game.
Mario Manningham: Mario Cashmere Manningham. His parents gave him that middle name because his hands are so soft and his moves are so smooth. Dude has some talent.
The Pass Protection: Only one sack and two hits on Eli. Tremendous job.
Eli Manning: You could take issue with the bonehead interception, which brought back memories of other ill-conceived back-foot throws in Giants territory (playoff losses to Carolina in 2005, Philadelphia last year). You could also point to his fumble, though you would have to acknowledge that Eli did well to cut his fumbles from 10 and 11 in 2006 and 2007 to 5 last year (not an exceptional figure, but well above average). And you would have to acknowledge that his numbers yesterday were very good: 20-for-29 for 256 yards, 8.8 yards per attempt with a 93.5 rating, though the terrific rating doesn't account for his fumble.
But that's kind of the thing about Eli right now, isn't it? No, he's not great, but he's pretty good. And more importantly, one trusts him as a Giants fan. Did you know the Manningham touchdown was a check-down by Eli? And how about his fourth quarter hard-count that compelled a Redskins false start, which ultimately resulted in a makeable 45-yard field goal by Tynes. And how about his scramble on the pass to Boss, which set up Tynes' last field goal, which pretty much put the game away?
Kevin Boss: What is it about throwing to Boss on the first play of the 4th quarter that seems to wake up our offense? After a quiet start last year, Big Smooth came on strong as a receiver. He's an underrated asset.
What's not to like:
The injuries: Danny Ware is out indefinitely with a dislocated elbow, which puts us at two running backs instead of the four we came into camp with. This has a minimal impact as long as Jacobs and Bradshaw stay healthy. But realistically, chances are both guys won't stay healthy all year.
Fortunately, Nicks characterized his injury as a "knick-knack" yesterday, even though it resulted in his being carted off the field and put in a soft cast. The latest reports say he will be out at least 2-3 weeks. Let's hope it's only that and nothing more. Because he's a rookie, one could see him getting phased out if he's out for a month or more. That would be bad, because he's much more talented than Hixon.
Not having Hixon return kicks: A big problem I have with Coughlin is that he doesn't maximize resources. Hixon is a nice player as a receiver, but a bona fide playmaker as a kick returner. Coughlin should get over his rigid notions about starters not returning kicks and let Hixon do what he does best.
The short-yardage and red zone offense: Two situations on the first two series: 2nd and 2 from the Washington 2, and 2nd and 3 from the Washington 5. Result: 3 points. Once the glow of this auspicious victory subsides, Giants fans might even remember their team coming up small on numerous occasions in last year's playoff loss to Philadelphia.
The middle-of-the-field pass defense: 61 percent of the Redskins yardage total came on passes over the middle (166 out of 272 yards), mostly to Chris Cooley and Antwaan Randle-El. Granted, some of these yards came on the Redskins final drive when the Giants were in the prevent defense and funneling everything to the middle, but still. Terrell Thomas in particular seemed to have a rough game (To be fair, I haven't looked carefully at the game and I don't know the coverage schemes).
The good news is that the Giants will soon get back Aaron Ross and Kevin Dockery, two of their three most experienced defensive backs (along with Webster). Additionally, they will see the return of Michael Boley, a weakside linebacker who comes to the Giants from Atlanta with a reputation as a good pass defender. Chase Blackburn, who manned that spot yesterday, is not known for his coverage skills.