By Paul Dottino
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Go ahead, it’s okay to get pumped up over the Giants’ 34-10 victory over the Houston Texans – even if their offense still needs some polish. This team can get a lot better, but beating a dangerous opponent on the road is a start.
And did we mention that this was the first time the Giants have registered back-to-back victories since Oct. 4-11 of last year. That’s right – LAST YEAR! Ok, now you can have a plate of cheese sticks and maybe a few pretzels, but you’re not allowed to break out any other party food unless the team extends this winning streak to four – with a home game against Detroit and primetime visit to Dallas in front of it. Then you’ll be allowed to enjoy a festive bye week. Until then, keep it to a minimum. Fair enough? No matter, let’s take a few moments to sort through the Giants’ second impressive victory in a row:
OFFENSE – WR Hakeem Nicks. OK, we admit it. There are weeks when dropping a potential TD pass – as Nicks did down the left sideline with two minutes left in the first half – might disqualify a player from getting a game ball, but not this time. Rather we’re going to reward Nicks for tying Amani Toomer’s team reception record for a receiver by catching 12 passes (for 130 yards and two TDs). Nicks broke open this game in the first half, hauling in seven grabs for 97 yards and the two scores (6 and 12 yards). Of particular interest, Nicks has got enough of a rhythm going to with Eli Manning that they’re completing back-shoulder throws in key spots.
DEFENSE – Coordinator Perry Fewell. For the second straight week, his schemes made opposing quarterbacks look as if they had just seen a flying saucer – they were confused beyond belief by defenders who often changed position and formation. Poor Matt Schaub. He got sacked three times and had four passes batted down at the line. He should be glad he’s not Jay Cutler this morning. Fewell’s got his unit playing with confidence and they are making very few mental mistakes. Houston came in with the NFL’s top rushing attack (172 avg.) and was held to 24 yards. Arian Foster and his 100-yard habit? Try 25 yards on 11 carries. Superstar WR Andre Johnson was targeted 13 times, but caught just five passes for 95 yards, primarily thanks to blanket coverage from CB Corey Webster. The Texans were held to 195 total yards, meaning the Giants’ defense has put up a sub-200 effort in back-to-back games.
SPECIAL TEAMS – LB Chase Blackburn. Talk about a big play that got lost in the shuffle. Let me remind you that Blackburn bailed out PR Darius Reynaud when he recovered a muffed punt at the Giants’ 15 in a scoreless game with 10 minutes left in the first quarter. The Giants took the ensuring drive 85 yards for a touchdown and the rout was on. And while we’re at it, DE Dave Tollefson and LB Gerris Wilkinson also were terrific in kick coverage, with each drawing a flag against the Texans’ return units, and backup QB Sage Rosenfels did a solid job taking over for rookie P Matt Dodge in holding for PK Lawrence Tynes.
OFFENSE – QB Eli Manning. Let’s get something straight. Manning did a terrific job of cutting down on his mistakes last season, so we raised the bar on our expectations this year. Yes, he threw the ball well enough against Houston to post 11 consecutive completions bridging the first and second quarters. But he also made two horrific decisions/throws that were intercepted in the third quarter and could have proven fatal in a close game. Early in the third, Manning rolled left and Sherrick McManis picked off an errant pass intended for Travis Beckum at the Houston 47. On the Giants’ next series – and from his own 15 – a pressured Manning was flat-footed and off balance when he underthrew a streaking Mario Manningham down the left sideline, where Kareem Jackson intercepted him. In both cases, Manning forced the ball when he would have been better to give up on the play.
DEFENSE – DT Barry Cofield. We’re going to allow Cofield to walk for one gasser and then shut it down because you really have to nitpick to single anybody out on this unit. But we’ll call out Cofield, who had another very solid game, since he was the only Giants’ defender to have a penalty marked off against him. He was flagged for offside on third-and-18 from the Giants’ 43 with nearly eight minutes left in the third quarter. See, we told you that this was a reach.
SPECIAL TEAMS – DB Brian Jackson. He was activated for the game because he’s a good hitter who wraps up well – perfect attributes to assist this beleaguered unit. But he didn’t endear himself to coach Tom Coughlin with two penalties. Jackson was flagged for a horse-collar tackle on a kickoff with nearly 13 minutes left in the half, following Hakeem Nicks’ TD that made it 21-0. Jackson also was called for an illegal block below the waist on a punt return with less than 11 minutes left in the game. If you prefer to look at the bright side, consider that Jackson has added plenty of hustle and energy to this unit – useful traits when running this week’s gassers.