Close, bit no cigar

No cigars yet for Tim Lewis. <BR><BR>

He knows better.

"Today's hero is tomorrow's goat,'' Lewis says.

No, the Giants defensive coordinator won't light up a cigar after his unit comes up big on a given Sunday. That's what Lewis used to do in Pittsburgh whenever his defense made him proud. After Steelers victories sparked by defensive excellence, Lewis would go home, assume a relaxed pose on his deck and light up. Not exactly Red Auerbach sticking it to the opponent by smoking a cigar while still on the bench, but a quiet, personal celebration for a job well done.

There could have been several such moments for Lewis this season, as the Giants won four of their first five games and rebounded from a porous showing in the season-opener in Philadelphia to allow only 41 points during a four-game winning streak. The succession of victories made it appropriate for many Giants to bask in the spotlight, Lewis included, but he's been around long enough to understand that the shining light of success can easily be dimmed by the darkened afterglow of defeat.

As in, a 28-13 loss to the Lions that included no glowing endorsements of Lewis' defense.

That's why there's been no cigar just yet. "In February I'll celebrate,'' Lewis said. "You have to grow into that.''

Or else, you have to earn the right to sit back and take a puff. Lewis' work with the Giants is just getting started and this is not the time to reach behind to pat yourself in the back.

"The whole thing goes in phases, it goes in steps and there's going to be a tremendous amount of ebb and flow to the season,'' Lewis said recently, as he was allowed by head coach Tom Coughlin to speak with the media during the Giants bye week. "The fact of the matter is, the final analysis will come down in February.

"The players are playing hard, they're preparing every week ... and our head coach does a great job of motivating them and all we do as assistant coaches is try to put them in the right positions and call it on Sundays. Now if it doesn't look very good, we take responsibility for it, which we should. I've been very fortunate to get hired by our head coach and then to be blessed with these guys here as assistants because they do a fantastic job. A lot of times during practice I just stand way back and let them coach them. It ends up being my package, it's my name, I understand all of that and I take responsibility for it, but the credit really goes to those guys.''

That's the way it is with the 42-year old Lewis, who came to the Giants after four years running the defensive show in Pittsburgh. At least, that's the way it seems to be with Lewis, as he doesn't often appear in public and isn't allowed to comment on players, games, strategies and won't be heard from again until, presumably, the end of the season.

In a profession where egos often mix with self-promotion and career advancement sometimes becomes too much of a priority, Lewis appears to be an assistant able to do his job and not worry about the credit. The position of defensive coordinator is among the most prominent in the game, after head coach, especially on a team with a head coach with an offensive background such as Coughlin and the Giants.

Lewis is the main authority on defense with the Giants, as Coughlin has far more input on the offensive side of the ball. From the outside looking in, this can almost be a secret. Lewis can't be quoted in print or show his face on a TV camera or be heard on a radio sound bite and he also lurks behind the scene on Sundays. Many defensive coordinators situate themselves on the bench during games, prowling the sideline, yelling, cajoling, demanding, exhorting. Plenty of face time.

That's not the way Lewis operates. He prefers the calm and quiet of the press box, stationed far above the fray, where he communicates with his assistants via headsets, where he can scan the field from a heightened vantage point, where he can make decisions and calls without undo emotion. That perch is not for everyone, but it is for Lewis.

"I've never been on the sidelines,'' Lewis said. "I do know [the press box] is my comfort zone. I like to see it so I can devise a plan from there, it's been where I've been so I don't know any other way.''

One year, when Lewis was an assistant at the University of Pittsburgh, he tried to do his job from the sideline. "With the bodies flying around and all the emotion and the crowd noise and all that stuff, it's easier for me to make my calls sitting there looking at it, trying to devise a plan," he said. "Other guys call it by feel, I like to go by the numbers.''

So what does a Tim Lewis defense look like? He's made good on his promise to put the Giants in different looks, using a base 4-3 front but mixing in 3-4 looks. He hasn't moved defensive end Michael Strahan around the line as much as anticipated, but that could come. In keeping with the NFL norm of pressure, pressure, pressure, Lewis sends bodies attacking the opposing quarterback, unafraid to utilize blitzes from various angles and with a multitude of players. Packers quarterback Brett Favre said it seemed as if there was no rhyme or reason to how the Giants pressured the quarterback. Through six games, 10 players had at least one sack, with five coming from linebackers or defensive backs. The Giants also were tied for second in the league in turnover ratio at plus-nine.

"We're blessed to have Tim Lewis come in here,'' cornerback Will Peterson said. "I never want to take anything away from the past team but it is different. It is fun to be out there playing with this defensive group.''

The sense from Lewis is that his players are tuned into what he's teaching and enjoy his approach for a simple reason. "Everybody gets a chance to make plays,'' he said. "Everybody wants to get a sack, everybody wants to make an interception and everybody wants to cause a fumble, and we allow them to do that based on what we're trying to get done out there.''

So far, so good. But no victory cigars. Not yet.

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