Inside Slant, Notes, Quotes, Report Cards

When John Fox was the defensive coordinator and resident guru of the Giants; just before he left to become head coach of the Carolina Panthers (and take them to the Super Bowl in just his second season), he was sometimes asked how a closely-knit, well-schooled defensive unit could sometimes look like a high school team that had never even practiced together.

"Every once in a while each season," he said, "even the best teams just come up empty. They have bad games. Lousy games, maybe. And there is no explanation for it. You just have to make sure it doesn't carry over to the next game and the next week and the one after that."

This is exactly the situation now faced by Giants' head coach Tom Coughlin and defensive coordinator Tim Lewis. Their defense rolled over dead Sunday night against San Diego, and now it is mandatory that they fix it before a loss becomes a losing streak.

"I don't think we did anything noteworthy defensively," Coughlin said after the 45-23 loss, in a game that became the personal purview of running back LaDainian Tomlinson. He gained 192 yards on 21 carries (that's 9.1 per), scored three times and even threw an option TD pass to WR Keenan McCardell.

The Giants surrendered 485 total net yards, and the fact that they gained 424 of their own didn't help soothe the defensive slackers.

"We were lousy," said DE Michael Strahan, "and I don't think there is an explanation."

Aha! The "Fox Theory".

Coughlin and Lewis tried to stem the flow. No fewer than three starters were taken out for a while, and the only explanation came from a team official in the press box: "It isn't because they got hurt."

No, on the contrary. They were hurting the team's chances.

So now it's back to the drawing board. Was cornerback Will Peterson that lousy because he played badly, or because he is on the way to losing his talent? Was second-year strong safety Gibril Wilson that bad, or was he just having a bad night? Second-year SLB Reggie Torbor rode the bench for a while, too. Why? Isn't he ready for the job, or was he just in a funk?

The same might be asked of the rest of those who stayed on the field, such as MLB Antonio Pierce (who had five clearly missed tackles in the first half alone) and DT William Joseph, who had played so poorly he looked like the 2003 and 2004 version instead of the surprising impact player of early 2005.

Since Coughlin has firewalled off the assistant coaches, no one can ask Lewis what happened, or any of the defensive aides. We'll just have to see whether they can fix it, whether this was an easily identifiable symptom of the "Fox Theory", or something deeper and far more serious.


--QB Eli Manning, the object of the San Diego fans' hatred because he refused to sign with the Chargers after they made him the NFL's first overall draft pick last year, took tons of abuse, but still managed to have a career game -- he completed 24-of-41 passes for 352 yards, two TDs and no interceptions. "I can't worry about the fans," he said. "I had a game to focus on."

--WR Plaxico Burress was kept out of the first quarter vs. San Diego for disciplinary reasons. He had been late for two practices during the week, a fact that the team and it's head coach kept secret. "I didn't know he was going to do that until a couple of hours before the game," said Burress. "Yeah, I was late."

--The Giants had won their first two games of the season, and in the process allowed only 29 points. They had been second in the NFL in total yards allowed via the running game. But Sunday night, San Diego rushed for 268 total net yards on 33 carries, an average of 8.1 per carry. "We stunk," said WLB Carlos Emmons, "but that won't happen again."

--LT Luke Petitgout commented that while the blocking could have been better, Manning still had plenty of protection. "He had time to throw," he said. "He was able to see the receivers making their moves. We lost and that's the bottom line, but I think our unit played well."

--QB Eli Manning, in a story that is just now surfacing (and as yet uncorroborated), was allegedly told by his father and counselor, former QB Archie Manning, that a member of the Chargers' organization "told me to keep you from joining the team." Eli had no comment, nor did the Chargers' front office.

--Marty Schottenheimer, the Chargers' head coach and a former Giants' assistant, said that despite the score, it was a well-played game on both sides. "They (the Giants) do a lot of unorthodox things with their front seven," he said. "It is hard to follow and hard to prepare for, and I think it was just one of those nights when our guys made the right guesses."

--TE Jeremy Shockey had his best game of the young season, catching six balls for 101 yards. "Yeah, nice numbers," he said, "but we lost, and that means individual stats don't mean a thing."



PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus -- Eli Manning completed 24 of 41 passes, threw for two TDs and didn't get picked. He was on top of his game, enjoying a (short) career highlight with 352 yards. Much of that was to the credit of the O-line, which blocked well. LT Luke Petitgout and LG David Diehl were especially efficient, and RG Chris Snee had a few outstanding blitz pick-ups. WR Amani Toomer looked awkward frequently and may be nearing the end of his long and distinguished career. WR Plaxico Burress, once he joined his teammates after the first quarter (disciplinary reasons: late for two meetings during the week) caught five passes for 52 yards and a TD. So did third WR David Tyree, who did exactly the same. TE Jeremy Shockey led the receivers with six catches and 101 yards.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus -- Virtually nonexistent, and as well as the O-line blocked for the passing game, that's how erratically it blocked for the run. RB Tiki Barber had 15 carries for 60 yards, and discounting three scrambles by Manning for 13 yards, only reserve RB Derrick Ward had positive numbers -- four carries, 13 yards. The Chargers were blitzing more than the Giants obviously expected. LB Donnie Edwards blitzed for the first time this season and came away with a sack, one of two the Chargers recorded. He also registered 13 tackles, eight coming on running plays.

PASSING DEFENSE: C-minus -- QB Drew Brees threw 22 passes and only three were incomplete. He totaled 191 yards and a pair of TDs, and his QB rating was an astronomical 133.1. RB LaDainian Tomlinson threw one pass -- an option to WR Keenan McCardell that went for a 26-yard TD. There was virtually no pass rush from the Giants, to the point where Brees not only wasn't sacked -- but never was knocked to the ground. In the secondary, there was more trouble than performance at an acceptable level. Both RCB Will Peterson and SS Gibril Wilson were removed for a time because of unacceptable play.

RUSHING DEFENSE: D -- Tomlinson gained 192 yards on 21 carries, more than nine yards per carry. He scored three TDs. He had a long gain of 62 yards (and was brought down by rookie DE Justin Tuck, which stunned the star. "I guess I'll have to check out his speed in the 40," Tomlinson said. The front four was abysmal, especially DT William Joseph and DT Kendrick Clancy. There was virtually no run support from the outside linebackers, while MLB Antonio Pierce had his worst game since joining the Giants as an UFA from Washington.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus -- Nothing disastrous happened to the special teams, which was probably the highlight of the night for the Giants. Dangerous rookie Darren Sproles ripped off one kickoff return for 58 yards and had four in total for 134, but he didn't hurt the team nearly as much as the offense did. Sproles also took back two punts for a minor 10 yards. Giants' P Jeff Feagles averaged 44.0 gross on four punts and a 41.5 net with a long of 54. K Jay Feely still hasn't missed all season; making three FGs and both PATs.

COACHING: C-minus -- The team looked unusually unprepared, and that has to trace directly to head coach Tom Coughlin and his two coordinators, Tim Lewis (defense) and John Hufnagel (offense). Coughlin's decision to bench WR Plaxico Burress for the first quarter adversely affected the team rather than the player and might have been reconsidered.

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