Easier said than done

It looks so easy, doesn't it? When Kurt Warner is under pressure, forced to scramble around and can't seem to lock in on a receiver, everyone thinks it in the stands or in the press box.

And when he's about to take a sack and everyone is worried he might fumble, even people at home in front of their television sets are yelling:

Throw the ball away!

So why doesn't he? Why, sometimes, does it seem like Warner holds the ball for eternity in the pocket? Why, instead of throwing a meaningless incompletion, does he risk his health - or worse, a fumble - and take what everyone else thinks is a meaningless sack?

"I wish it was that easy," Warner said. "I wish if time is getting down I could just turn and just throw it. But sometimes the best thing is just to tuck the ball in and not make the play worse."

Whether that's right or not, it has become a very important issue during this revival season for the Giants because of the alarming number of times Warner is being sacked. Through the Giants' 34-13 win over the Minnesota Vikings, which raised their record to 5-2, Warner had been sacked 26 times and the 27 sacks the Giants had given up (Eli Manning was sacked once) was the worst number in the NFL. In a two-game stretch (vs. Detroit and at Minnesota), Warner took a ridiculous 11 sacks.

And the problem is not necessarily the Giants' much-maligned offensive line. While the protection could be better at times, they are hamstrung by the length of time Warner holds the ball in the pocket. Giants coach Tom Coughlin said that's because Warner is "very courageous," but he didn't necessarily mean that as a good thing.

"Kurt will hold the ball late into the route trying to determine whether someone comes open," Coughlin said. "He's always trying to make a play and he's also very, very aware of the fact that he does not want to turn it over. There are times when the ball should come out much earlier."

For proof of that, examine the Giants' win over the Vikings where Warner was sacked five times. At least three of those were "coverage sacks" - though that's a misnomer because on all three there was at least one open receiver. On another he didn't appear to have an open receiver, but had enough time to get rid of the ball. On those five plays, he held the ball for an average of 4.2 seconds. And while that seems like a short time, it's really an eternity down on the field.

Speaking of eternity, on the Giants' first offensive play - after Kevin Lewis' fumble recovery set the Giants up at the Vikings' 22 - the snap-to-sack time was an unfathomable 6.4 seconds. Tight end Jeremy Shockey was open on the goal line right in the middle of the field. But instead, Warner held the ball so long that Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams, after being locked up to Warner's right by Giants guard Jason Whittle, had time to shed his block and cut back across to the left hash mark to wrap Warner up.

Neither that play, nor the sack two plays later when Warner again didn't see an open Shockey and held the ball for 3.5 seconds in the pocket, really hurt the Giants. They still got a field goal on that drive to start them on their way to what became a 34-0 lead. And the Giants weren't hurt on the final sack of the game either, when Warner held the ball for 3.7 seconds and fumbled (left tackle Luke Petitgout recovered).

But they could have been costly if the ball popped loose in the wrong direction or if Warner hit the ground the wrong way. The Giants are starting to believe they can do something special this season and Warner is a big part of their plan. They don't need to put rookie Eli Manning into the pressure cooker of a playoff drive.

Warner understands all that. And if he forgets, Coughlin, offensive coordinator John Hufnagel and quarterbacks coach Kevin Gilbride are always there to remind him. The problem, he said, is that throwing the ball away isn't as easy as it seems.

"It sounds that easy," Warner said. "But you also have to understand when you're in the pocket there's only certain ways you can throw it away. You can't just turn and heave it into the stands. You have to find a lane, you have to make sure you're not getting hit, you have to throw it in the direction (of a receiver), to the line of scrimmage.

"And you're fighting that balance of, 'Well if I just hold it another half-a-second, maybe somebody will pop open.' But at the same time, if somebody doesn't pop open it could result in a sack. It all factors in. It's something you have to continue to be conscious of and getting a feel for when you just have to say 'Hey, the defense won that one' and get rid of the ball in any way possible."

Again, it's not all Warner. There have been plenty of offensive line breakdowns, though Warner said, "I think the offensive line has been improving every single week." Whatever the cause, the Giants (through seven games) were on pace to give up 61 sacks this season. That's a number they haven't hit since they gave up 61 sacks in 1987, and it would tie for their most since the 62 they allowed (in 14 games) in 1966.

It's hard to imagine Warner would survive such a continuous beating. And even if he does, it's hard to imagine he'll be able to keep holding onto the football. Warner knows all that and admits, "It's definitely a concern."

But he also knows that standing tall in the pocket can be a hard habit to change.

"One time you hold it a little long and make a big play, one time you hold it a little long and it's a sack, so what works one time might not be the best thing the next time," Warner said. "But it's definitely a concern. Anytime those things mount and they put you in a tougher situation than you were before, it's something you have to focus on."

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