The Giants will be off this weekend, and while it is the earliest in the season they have ever drawn their bye, it is not unwelcome.
Perhaps they will spend the additional time looking for the defense, which they apparently lost en route to the start of the season. The matter has become pressing, since if they don't find it soon, the season that had such promise might grind to an embarrassingly early conclusion. In their three games, from which they have emerged with a somewhat surprising 2-1 record, the Giants have allowed a whopping 1,214 total net yards, which breaks down to 404.7 yards per game and that, dear fan, is dead last in the 32-team NFL. They are not only 32nd in total defense but also 32nd in defense vs. the pass.
It is embarrassing.
"Yes, I am disappointed at the defensive numbers," said head coach Jim Fassel.
"I'm surprised, too. I'm not happy with the points we have allowed, either." That statistic is equally disheartening. The Giants have allowed 69 points in three games, and that's 23 per game and that's not acceptable. Two of the games have gone into OT, the last two, and they turned out to be a loss (to Dallas, 35-32) and a victory (over Washington, 24-21).
To this end, Fassel has demanded a plan from defensive coordinator Johnnie Lynn, some outline of how he plans to stop the bleeding. It is not an idle threat for the benefit of the press, either. "I already know what Johnnie wants to do, what he's going to change, and I am in agreement with it," he said. "It's just that I can't share it with you."
Lynn became the defensive coordinator last year when his predecessor, John Fox, took over as head coach in Carolina. Lynn had been secondary coach and, in all honesty, he was not Fassel's first choice. There were two men -- possibly a third -- who were elevated to similar positions so that leaving for the Giants' job would have been considered a lateral move and thus not allowed.
Is Lynn in over his head? He doesn't act that way. He is decisive and straightforward and confident in the talent of his defensive unit. The answer, then, is simple: prove it.
He will have to stop rushing three linemen late in the game, because he doesn't have the dynamic pass-rushers who can beat the double blocks, and no secondary, not even eight men deep, can stay with five receivers 100 percent of the time. Consequently, without pressure applied to the quarterback, he has time to spot that opening and exploit it. The Cowboys did it in the fourth quarter and overtime; the Redskins did it in the second half when they fought back from a 21-3 deficit.
Indeed, the Giants probably considered themselves fortunate to have won the coin toss for the OT period against Washington. It is unlikely they would have held together long enough to keep the Redskins from achieving field goal range had they got the ball first.
NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
--There is still no rhyme nor reason to the UFA signing of RB Dorsey Levens, who has yet to carry the ball for the Giants and who has been on the Game Inactive list for two of the three games so far. Nor does it appear to have made any sense to keep RB Ron Dayne, who has been on all three Game Inactive lists. The former first-round pick in 2000 doesn't seem to be a factor in Fassel's thinking.
So why are they there? "Somebody is going to have to prove to me the logic in getting rid of a couple of strong insurance policies," says general manager Ernie Accorsi. "We all know that players don't stay healthy for a full season, in many cases. What if we lose Tiki [Barber]? We have insurance policies."
Sure, but Fassel indicates that the overworked Barber (he has 67 carries for 313 yards, all but eight carries and 18 yards of the team's total) might start to get some spot rest -- and that tiny Delvin Joyce (5-7, 190) will be his replacement.
The plan for Barber, should it come to pass, is to take him out for a series, put him back in for two, take him out for another -- a sort of rotation formula with Joyce filling in.
"I talked to him about it and he [not surprisingly] agrees with me," Fassel said. "We can't just keep working him this way. But I do have to admit that knowing we were on our bye this weekend entered into my thinking last Sunday."
Barber carried three times for 30 yards in the OT period, one third of the plays and more than half the 54 yards that put the Giants on the Redskins' 11, from where kicker Matt Bryant drove a 29-yard field goal cleanly through the uprights to end the game.
Barber was given a day off from practice Wednesday, as were SS Shaun Williams, CB Will Peterson, DE Michael Strahan and DT Keith Hamilton, all of whom were nursing minor injuries. Tiki's right leg was bandaged, but Fassel shrugged it off as a minor ankle sprain.
--QB Kerry Collins was named the NFC's Offensive Player of the Week for his performance vs. the Redskins (24 for 39, 276 yards, three TDs, zero interceptions and a 108.5 rating). For the season, he has completed 59 of 116 passes for 743 yards, six TDs, two picks and a rating of 81.2).
"Kerry handles things so well, with such poise," Fassel gushed. "He is as cool and as calm a player as you would want."
--The Giants have made nine trips to the red zone in three games (Fassel says it's really only seven because twice they took a knee) and have come away with fiver TDs and a FG. ... The Giants have converted only 14 of 40 third down situations. ... Of the sky-high 1,214 total net yards the Giants' defense has surrendered, 1,022 have come via the pass. But the Giants do have 13 sacks, tying them with San Francisco for most in the NFL.
BY THE NUMBERS: 35 -- The number of tackles recorded by the Giants vs. Washington before the first D-lineman's total were entered. DE Michael Strahan had two, eighth on the team's tackle chart (which was led by LB Dhani Jones, with seven).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Jeff [Feagles] is more than just a punter. He is the best holder in the league, and when he isn't punting he's busy with the team throwing balls to the defensive backs, things like that. He is an all-around athlete and one of our most important weapons." -- Giants head coach Jim Fassel on his new punter, who has kicked 19 times for a 43.8 gross average, 35.5 net average, and putting seven inside the 20-yard line.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--The Giants head into their bye week in relatively good condition. Unfortunately that also means that later on down the road, when they might need a week off to rest and/or rehabilitate injured players, they won't have that luxury.
--DT Keith Hamilton, who missed the game in Washington because of a pulled hamstring, should be fine for the next game, at home October 5 vs. Miami.
--RB Tiki Barber, with his 28 carries and 126 yards rushing vs. Washington, now has 313 for the season in 116 carries -- and the team has only eight other carries in total. "I told the guys in the locker room," Barber said, laughing, "that if I have only three or four more years of playing time left, they better get all they can out of me now."
--Head coach Jim Fassel admits he overused Barber vs. Washington but said that the fact the team was heading into its bye week entered into the equation. "I knew he'd have plenty of time to rest," he said. It is difficult to blame Fassel since Barber is the Giants' only truly productive running back.
--ORT Chris Bober, formerly the Giants' starting center, has picked up his game after being thrust into the position in Week Two. "He is getting it back," said teammate Luke Petitgout, the OLT. "Hey, Chris came up to us [out of college] as a tackle. He's a good tackle. He just needed to scrape off some of the rust."
--No word has been forthcoming on RT Ian Allen's standing with the team. Allen seems to have played so badly vs. St. Louis in Week One that he was benched, forcing Bober to RT and rookie (seventh round) Wayne Lucier to start at center.
"I'm hoping," Allen says. "All I can do is what the coaches tell me to do and hope I get another chance."