Forget Manning, pressure's on Coughlin

The worst indictment of Tom Coughlin's work would be comparing it to Jim Fassel's 2003 exercise. But that's exactly how the Giants played in the second quarter of the season.

Three losses in four games. Penalties, turnovers, missed assignments, mental mistakes – Coughlin's team suddenly lifted the '03 blueprint.

So Coughlin called for a drastic measure heading into the Atlanta game. He went to the bullpen for Archie's kid with the season on the line. He asked Eli Manning to take a set of broken down parts on a playoff run.

Fine. Coughlin had to make the move. Kurt Warner had become a sitting duck behind a leaky line. Things were only getting worse.

But Coughlin's rookie season as Giants coach won't be defined by the Manning move. It will be defined by whether Sheriff Coughlin gets the team out of its mid-season funk.

Coughlin announced his arrival with a passionate dissertation focused on change. He performed a pretty thorough bashing of Fassel in the process. Whether intending to or not, Coughlin laced into Fassel. Coughlin talked about the "restoration of pride'' and the "restoration of our professionalism and the dignity with which we conduct our business.'' If that's not kicking the former coach when he's down, what is?

Coughlin talked about eliminating turnovers and penalties. "You can't shoot yourself in the foot,'' Coughlin said in that memorable January news conference, "and expect to win the 100-meter dash.''

The way the Giants played in the second quarter, they couldn't win it with a 50-meter head start. Things started going bad with the Lions loss. Coughlin blamed it on preparation, which is ultimately the coach's responsibility.

The coach obviously deserves a chunk of blame for consecutive losses to Chicago and Arizona. Warner and the offensive line took the main hit. But where were the coaching adjustments? The games had an obvious trend. Chicago and Arizona faced early double-digit deficits. Both of them came back through relentless pass pressure. The Bears sent everybody but Dick Butkus at Warner after he helped the Giants take a 14-0 lead. Chicago's pressure changed the game. Sure enough the Cardinals did the same thing a week later. Once again it worked.

Coughlin made a critical mistake against Arizona that was overshadowed in the Warner-Manning chatter. Down 14-10, Arizona was hit with a 5-yard penalty on second-and-goal from the 5. Coughlin accepted the penalty, making it second-and-10 instead of third-and-five. Obafemi Ayanbadejo went up the gut for 7 yards and Emmitt Smith ran it in from the 3 on third down.

Decline the penalty and the Giants would have had to make one stop to force a field goal and keep the lead. Instead Arizona got an extra play, then got the game-winning touchdown.

Listen, Coughlin deserved every back pat he received when the Giants were 4-1. Likewise, he deserves a hit when things go south. Now it's his job to fix things.

Coughlin certainly hasn't fixed the penalty problem. The Giants committed 14 penalties for 109 yards against Chicago. Fourteen! They committed another 10 penalties for 97 yards against Arizona. Through nine games the Giants had 73 penalties and were on pace to break the team record of 127 penalties. Yes, set last season.

Coughlin talked about keeping the injured reserve list to a minimum. He said in January the number of IRs "is a cancer'' that "has to be corrected. It is a mental thing, I believe, as much as it is anything else.''

Six key players went on injured reserve from the start of the season up to the ninth game. At the same point last year, only one key player had gone on IR.

Coughlin can't have it both ways. He can't make lofty promises, kick around the outgoing coach, then put a carbon copy on the field. Coughlin has bettered the 4-12 record of last season. But he has some work left before reaching the first-year plateau of the team's last rookie head coach – Fassel's 10-5-1 division-winning team of '97.

Truly a class act: Watching him sitting at his locker reading the bible, I couldn't help but think Kurt Warner has another run in him as Giants quarterback. OK, actually it was hope. Hope that Warner gets another shot, if only to improve his free-agent marketability.

' This doesn't mean I'm rooting against Eli Manning, and certainly don't want to see him get injured. It just means that Warner quickly proved to be one of the metro area's great class acts.

If this is it for Warner in a Giants uniform, he's owed a hand for delivering hope to a fan base that awaited misery. But even at 4-1, Warner didn't get much love from the Giants faithful. Manning was always the intriguing alternative, the classic popular backup with a last name that made fans dream.

Manning has the name. Giants faithful can only hope that some day he winds up with credentials similar to Warner.

Shockey quietly leading the way: The other day Coughlin was talking about people who have stepped up to take a leadership role and guess whose name came up? Here's a hint: He once called Bill Parcells a homo.

Jeremy Shockey has produced further evidence of his continuing maturity. He has been a good soldier despite being frustrated with his non-receiving roles under Coughlin. He has focused his comments on the bigger picture of helping the Giants win football games.

Warner is sitting and Michael Strahan is done for the season. So the locker room suddenly is itching for leaders. Shockey is one of the few players not shy about calling out teammates. He could potentially become the most important voice in the locker room.

"If we don't do our jobs, it isn't going to change around here,'' Shockey said when asked about Manning starting. "We just need to give the guy time and let him do his job.''

Later, he said, "There are some guys in this room that have played at a real high level a year ago or a couple of years ago and they just need to get back on that same plateau they were on and we need to get this going.''

He's absolutely right. Shockey is right a lot these days.

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