News, Notes, Quotes, and Grades

Kareem McKenzie was targeted, and on March 4, just days after the unrestricted free agency period opened, the Giants signed the massive right tackle from the New York Jets.

They made him their highest paid offensive lineman, producing a six-year contract worth $36 million plus signing bonus, and were content that their unit had just added an anchor, road-grader and perhaps the best run-blocker in the NFL.

So what happened? He has played well, but the 6-6, 335-pounder who's now in his fifth season hasn't been the dynamic force he was expected to be. He allowed Carolina DE Julius Peppers to move through virtually untouched in the second preseason game of the summer that left prize QB Eli Manning nursing a bruised elbow that kept him out of the rest of the fun-in-the-sun games.

Then in the opener last Sunday against Arizona, McKenzie left in the second quarter with a sprained ankle, and now is considered "probable" for next Monday night's emergency game against New Orleans, re-located due to Hurricane Katrina from the "Big Easy" to the Meadowlands.

In his place vs. Arizona was veteran Bob Whitfield, who played well against LDE Chike Okeafor, and who will continue to hold down the position if McKenzie isn't able to return.

"It's just a sprained ankle," McKenzie said. "I should be fine."

Head coach Tom Coughlin echoed that statement.

But a sprained ankle on a 335-pound man is probably more sensitive than if the guy weighs 175, and that is always the concern when big men come up with what should be minor setbacks. It is not considered a "high ankle sprain," which is far more serious.

NOTES, QUOTES
-- Willie Ponder, last year's NFL leader in kickoff returns (29.6 average) took one back versus Arizona for 95 yards and a touchdown, and in the same game, newly-signed Chad Morton took a punt back 52 yards for another touchdown. It was the first time since 1955 that the Giants had a kickoff and punt taken back for a touchdown -- and those was done by the same man, Jimmy Patton, on Oct. 30 of that year vs. Washington.
-- LDE Michael Strahan, who had seven solo tackles and 1.5 sacks, didn't think the performance was vindication that his torn pectoral muscle had fully healed. "No, I knew that was going to get better," he said. "All it took was hard work. But I do think it should quiet down those people who say I'm too old (he's 33) and that my weight is down too low (Strahan weighs 255 these days). I'm fine, and I don't think 33 is old."
-- MLB Antonio Pierce, signed as an UFA from Washington on April 22, led the team in tackles with 11 (seven solo) and half a sack. Last season, he played every defensive snap for the Redskins, and plans on doing that now. "I like this defense, I like the chemistry we have," he said. "This is going to be a fun season."
-- RCB Curtis Deloatch started in place of incumbent Will Peterson (who, it was rumored, had a spat with the coaches during the week) and finished with seven tackles and a defensed pass. But he was victimized several times during WR Larry Fitzgerald's big day, and the Cardinal receiver finished with a career-best 13 receptions for 155 yards and a 1-yard TD pass.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

REPORT CARD VS. CARDINALS

PASSING OFFENSE: B -- It wasn't a spectacular day for Eli Manning in his first season-opening start, but he did play within himself. He completed 10 of 23 passes for 172 yards and a pair of TDs (as well as a pair of interceptions). He was 5-for-8 in the second half for 101 yards. "I was not consistent," he said. "I missed some throws. I know I have to set my feet better and be more confident in the pocket." Pass protection was more than adequate; one of the sacks was a coverage sack and the other might have been from Manning holding the ball a touch too long.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- The Giants may have unveiled a new "Lighting and Thunder" backfield with superstar Tiki Barber and rookie Brandon Jacobs. Barber gained 62 yards in 13 carries while the 6-5, 260-pound fourth-rounder took six carries for 39 yards. They each scored a TD. The blocking was better than OK, with LT Luke Petitgout and LG David Diehl playing especially well. FB Jim Finn threw the clearing block on Barber's 21-yard TD.

PASS DEFENSE: C-minus -- Since the Cardinals were able to gain 316 yards passing, completing 32 of 56 attempts (Kurt Warner was 27 for 46 and 264 yards), the grade cannot be too high for the defense. Curtis Deloatch was playing at RCB for the inactive starter Will Peterson, who had been nursing a knee and, it is rumored, compounded his problem with an argument with the coaches during the week. Deloatch was picked on, and the result was a career day for WR Larry Fitzgerald (13 catches, 155 yards). The secondary managed two interceptions, by SS Gibril Wilson and reserve CB Frank Walker, who made a late-game pick off of reserve QB Josh McCown that he took back 71 yards. Rookie CB Corey Webster had five solo tackles in a nickel role.

RUSH DEFENSE: A -- The Cardinals came in with high hopes for rookie J.J. Arrington, backup up by veteran Marcel Shipp. But nothing happened. Arrington had seven carries for 10 yards, Shipp had three for 11 and, all told, the Arizona result was 21 carries and 31 yards. Surprisingly, the middle was a fortress manned by the Giants' first round pick in 2003, DT William Joseph (three tackles, one sack, one pass knocked down). Fred Robbins (four tackles) and Kendrick Clancy (two) rotated inside with Joseph.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- How else could you grade a unit that contributed a 95-yard TD on a kickoff return by Willie Ponder, a 52-yard TD on a punt return by Chad Morton, downed four punts inside the 20-yard line and created two fair catches along with three downed punts? Punter Jeff Feagles, who passed Sean Landeta for the most punts in NFL history (1,368) averaged 42.8 net.

COACHING: B -- Head coach Tom Coughlin must be given credit for his preparation. The Giants were ready. He is also earning praise for his handling of young QB Eli Manning and his constant coaching of all the Giants. When Ponder came running off the field after his 95-yard explosion, Coughlin grabbed him and said: "You know, you could hold the ball a little closer to your body." Special teams coach Mike Sweatman is making a major difference with his units.


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