NYG Team Report

The most amazing thing about the Giants after their first five games of the season is that they won four of them. <BR><BR>

This might not be quite as mind-blowing for many teams, but since the Giants were 4-12 and in total disarray last season, and since the team now has a new head coach with a new staff and new offensive and defensive guidelines, it is well worth noting.

It has taken Tom Coughlin five games to match Jim Fassel's four victories in 16 games last season. Of equal note, and as a harbinger for the rest of the season, the Giants seem to be improving each week.

They enter their bye week fresh off back-to-back road victories in two usually difficult places to win, Green Bay and Dallas, and they go into their bye on a four-game winning streak as well.

Through it all, Coughlin refuses to look more than one week into the team's future. "For a project like this," he says, "we are in a constant 'work in progress' status. We must view each game with 100 percent focus. Each game for us, in a way, is like a season. We cannot afford to look ahead."

So the biggest story in Giant-land these days is simply the fact that they are winning, and while Coughlin won't condone it, others are only too eager to look ahead. When they come out of their break, it will be for a home game against Detroit. That will be followed by a road trip to Minnesota, a home game against Chicago and a road game in Arizona.

It would appear, using a non-approved Coughlin crystal ball, that three of those games are eminently winnable and that the way their defense is playing, they could be expected to battle the Vikings on equal ground.

How has this been wrought? Coughlin engineered a fully 50 percent overhaul in personnel. He installed rules that were viewed as overly harsh by the veterans who were there (and many who weren't), but he felt strongly that the first thing this 4-12 team needed was discipline.

Being on time for meetings wasn't acceptable; he wanted them there early. And there were the small things, such as sitting at meetings with both feet on the ground; wearing long athletic socks instead of the ankle-high version; forming a disciplined line when emerging onto the field for a game; and placing a to-be-feared onus on fumbles, offensive line penalties such as false starts and offsides.

Through it all, he has remained taciturn and harsh, rigid in his beliefs and willing to make examples of players who tried to circumvent them. Early in the summer, before training camp, six of the veterans telephoned the NFL Players Association to complain about long hours and intense work.

Now no one will dare to complain. Winning, it seems, solves all the problems.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Coach Tom Coughlin owes much of his pro coaching career to Dallas head coach Bill Parcells, the man whose team he beat last Sunday to finish off the first five games before the team's bye. "This wasn't about Bill Parcells and Tom Coughlin," he said, edgy as usual. "This was the Giants and the Cowboys playing a football game. Bill is one of my best friends, and this was just a game."

--The last time the Giants started a season with a 4-1 record was in 1993, the first year of Dan Reeves' reign as head coach. The last time they won four in a row was in 2002, when they closed out the regular season with that quartet of victories and slipped into the playoffs (and then out in the wild-card round).

--RB Tiki Barber gained 122 yards in 23 carries and has 577 yards through the first five games. Last season Barber fumbled nine times and lost five of them. This year in 96 carries he has yet to fumble. "It's great to get a chance to re-invent yourself," he said. "With a new regime, you get a chance. A lot of us have been able to do that."

--TE Jeremy Shockey caught five passes for 44 yards and for the second week in a row caught a "fade" pass in the end zone from QB Kurt Warner. It happened late in the third quarter and gave the Giants a 13-10 lead. "I beat Roy (star safety Roy Williams) and it got a little testy," he said. "I love playing against guys who battle every minute."

--LG Jason Whittle rejoined the Giants' offensive line this season in a trade with Tampa Bay (he had signed on as an UFA). "I understand that one of the problems going into the season was the line," he said of the unit that has been retooled and tinkered with and suddenly is playing well. "You just need to communicate with each other and try to hold each block a second longer than you need to."

--Rookie SS Gibril Wilson, who stepped into the starting job after Shaun Williams was lost for the season, has played exceedingly well since, and the fifth-round draft pick via Tennessee was a heavy contributor again vs. Dallas. "It's just football," he smiled. "It's faster and the players are a lot better all over the rosters, but it's just football. I am thrilled with this opportunity. I didn't expect to play this early."

--CB Will Allen, who shared the team lead with five tackles (with four others), dropped two certain interceptions. One of them, on the Cowboys' first play of the game, was guaranteed to be a TD return. "I never dropped two," he said. "Sometimes I have dropped one, but I feel just terrible."

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

REPORT CARD VS. COWBOYS

PASSING OFFENSE: B-minus -- Kurt Warner wasn't the sharp, poised performer he had been through the first four games, but he was efficient when he had to be and on the money often enough to keep the Cowboys' defense from loading up against the run. He did complete 18 of 33 passes for 217 yards, one TD and no interceptions. TE Jeremy Shockey is both blocking well in pass protection and catching the ball after having some early season drop problems. It was the fourth consecutive game in which he had five receptions. His TD grab in the end zone that gave the Giants the lead in the second half capped a fierce in-fight between him and Cowboys SS Roy Williams, the best in the NFL at this point. The fleet Tim Carter, the third wideout, was lost for the rest of the season when he fractured his hip socket while diving for a ball. The O-line blocked reasonably well for Warner with the exception of RT David Diehl, who had enormous difficulty handling LDE Greg Ellis, who had two sacks, two batted balls and six tackles. LT Luke Petitgout had a hold and a false start, continuing his penalty-filled season.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- They are blocking just enough for RB Tiki Barber, who is proving he doesn't need much of a hole and doesn't need it to be there for very long. He gained 122 yards in 23 carries, added five receptions for 76 yards and goes into the break with 577 yards rushing in 96 carries and 19 receptions for 240 yards -- and four overall TDs, one more than he had all last season. He had a 58-yard run and a 55-yard reception on a screen pass. Rookie RG Chris Snee has been outstanding the last two games.

PASS DEFENSE: B -- For the first time all season, Dallas QB Vinny Testaverde didn't have a pass of 20 yards or longer. The Cowboys have been living on the long gain since their running game has been generally ineffective. Testaverde was held to 15 completions in 25 attempts for 126 yards, one TD and one interception. TE Jason Witten again emerged as the Cowboys' leading receiver (five catches) but was forced into fumbling and lost the ball at a crucial moment. The LBs were outstanding in pass defense, notably WLB Barrett Green.

RUSH DEFENSE: C-plus -- Veteran Eddie George had his best game of the season, gaining 75 yards in 15 carries with a 24-yard long gain. Giants' DT Fred Robbins left early in the second quarter with a strained shoulder, and reserve William Joseph was exploited the rest of the day on running plays up the middle. Rookie SS Gibril Wilson played well while CB Will Peterson rang up his second pick of the season. Wilson, Peterson and CB Will Allen shared the tackling lead with five each.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- Nothing spectacular, although K Steve Christie exonerated himself with four successful FGs in as many attempts, including two of 51 and 47 yards. The week before, vs. Green Bay, he had missed all three tries, including shorties of 33 and 30 yards. P Jeff Feagles had an average day, three kicks for a 42.7 average (37.0 net) and one inside the 20. Mark Jones returned two punts for four yards; Mike McCloud took back three KOs for 68 yards. Kick coverage was solid.

COACHING: B -- Head coach Tom Coughlin, a disciple of Dallas head man Bill Parcells, anticipated his mentor's moves, especially on a fourth-and-one situation in the fourth quarter. It was a pass into the flat to FB Darian Barnes, and he was stopped cold. "We had been hurt by the pass in the flat to the fullback," Coughlin said, "and I know Bill was going to see that on the game tapes. So we anticipated that he'd go that way." Offensive coordinator John Hufnagel mixed his plays successfully for the third week in a row and has come a long way toward making the team far less predictable.


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