Basic instincts: Giants keep it simple to whip Redskins
A terrible performance two weeks ago against Seattle is a distant memory for the Giants, who went back to basics to defeat the Redskins, John Clayton writes.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Following a disastrous road trip to Seattle, the Giants, the team critics thought was in chaos, focused on the basics. Bye weeks allow coaches and players to focus and attempt to fix problems.
Defensive coordinator Tim Lewis threw out a lot of his exotic blitz packages and stayed in a relatively basic 4-3 against the Redskins on Sunday. Coach Tom Coughlin put together a 16-play opening script that had proper balance, emphasizing the run. What was needed was a punctuation mark prior to Sunday's fairly easy 19-3 victory over the Redskins. Halfback Tiki Barber supplied it.
Five minutes before kickoff, Barber said this to the team: "We need to all be accountable. Cut out the mistakes and just rely on our skills. Sometimes you fall into that trap of thinking that you are so good that you can just let things happen. But you've got to make things happen. We're not going to be good just because we are good. We have to make ourselves good."
Coughlin, the coach under two weeks of intense media scrutiny, lashed back at those questioning his team, which is 2-2, but more importantly, 2-0 in the NFC East.
"You know what, there never was anything to be quieted down," Coughlin said with an edge to his voice. "If you are going to take one statement and run with it -- which you all did for two weeks and enjoyed it -- there wasn't a problem in the locker room, OK?"
The Giants were a team Sunday because they played a normal game. It probably helped that the Redskins (2-3) were the most basic offensive team they've faced this season. The Giants opened with two no-huddle disasters against the Colts and Eagles and followed by tripping all over themselves against Matt Hasselbeck's quick-paced offense in Seattle. The Redskins actually huddle on offense. That was a nice break.
"Teams have been trying to keep us off balance with the no-huddle, and it's really difficult," Giants middle linebacker Antonio Pierce said. "Philadelphia did it and that's the first time I've seen it from them, and I've been in the league six years and have played them 12 times. It makes it a lot easier because you actually see guys come out and have up-tempo throws. Washington has so much motion and shifting, [the no-huddle] might be difficult to do."
In a game of basics, the Giants prevailed. Their offense gained 411 yards on 69 plays. They ran 36 times. They passed 33. That's the balance Barber and Coughlin wanted. Coughlin followed a simple script at the beginning of the game, setting up one of the Giants' best strengths: the running game.
It's important for the Giants to establish the run because one of Eli Manning's strengths is the deep ball.
"The basics we worked on during the bye week was running the ball," Barber said. "We had the imbalances in the past week because we've been behind. We got behind because of mistakes. We've gotten out of balance with our run-pass ratios, and when you do, it's hard to win."
Manning worked that balance to perfection. Were it not for a 47-yard missed field goal by Jay Feely at the conclusion of the Giants' opening drive, New York would have scored on its first six possessions. Sure, some drives bogged down, but that wasn't a surprise. The Redskins do have a good defense.
But Manning works his best when defenses have to defend the run. That allowed him to work his play-action passes. Because the Redskins keep eight defenders near the line of scrimmage, they are vulnerable to play-action passes if the extra rushers don't get to the quarterback.
On the Giants' second possession, the Redskins employed a Cover Zero defense that left the middle of the field open. Giants receiver Amani Toomer was covered man-to-man by Kenny Wright. Without safety help, Wright couldn't cover Toomer long enough while he angled toward the middle of the field to catch a 41-yard pass. It set up Feely's 24-yard field goal.
"The Redskins were playing that defense pretty funny," Toomer said. "The cornerback's hips were set a certain way, which I couldn't understand. I gave him a little move outside and went underneath, but I think when they are playing that defense, they are really susceptible to the deep ball. The defensive philosophy is to get to the quarterback. It's a gambling defense because I don't think they had a safety in the middle of the field."
Manning took a big shot as he released the ball, but he got the long completion. Because the Redskins gamble, they give up big plays. Washington has given up 19 plays of 20 or more yards this season, ranking among the league's worst. The Giants responded by taking advantage.
The next time the Giants had the ball, Plaxico Burress ran a perfectly timed route in the middle of the field against a four-deep zone defense in which defenders quartered off the field. He gained 46 yards on that catch.
"I think if you ask our defense, stopping the big play is the one thing that we need to find a way to play better on the deep balls," Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said. "Today, it certainly wasn't defense, it wasn't special teams, it wasn't offense, it was all of us. I include myself in that. When we lose, I look at it as what I could have done. I think it was all of us together. When the Redskins lose, we all lose together."
Burress' long catch set up Feely's second successful field goal.
"We've been running the sprint play and we faked the strength play," Manning said. "Plax went in and attacked Sean Taylor and kind of gave him a corner stick. I saw Taylor sort of get flipped around, and that's when I threw it. I didn't have a whole lot of time to set back there, but I saw him make a move. If you have one-on-one with Plaxico -- which it pretty much ended up with him being on that safety -- you try to give him a shot."
The next time Burress found himself in a man-to-man situation against Taylor, he capitalized with the game-clinching TD. It was the middle of the third quarter, the Giants led 9-3 and Manning had marched the Giants to the Redskins' 2 after the second-half kickoff. The Redskins moved into blitz formation, and Burress was in the slot.
"I was smiling when I saw that coverage, even though you couldn't see it because of my big, white mouthpiece," Burress said of his catch, on a pass that Manning lobbed high to take advantage of his receiver's long reach.
With the lead and a good, basic Giants pass rush, the Redskins had no chance of coming back. They finished with only 164 yards of offense, spread over nine possessions.
"We didn't play our best today," Redskins receiver Antwaan Randle El said. "I don't know why we just couldn't get going the way that we needed to. It happens, but somebody has to get you out of it. We didn't get that. We need somebody to step up and make that play -- run or catch -- and then somebody else just keep it going."
At 2-2, the Giants won't concede anything.
"It was important to win this game and be 2-0 in division," Giants linebacker LaVar Arrington said. "We're sitting pretty even though we're 2-2 because we're 2-0 in the division. People were jumping off the wagon, jumping off the bridges. It's too early for all of that. It's hard to have to deal with that on a bye week. We know where we stand now."
During the bye week, the Giants went back to basics and found themselves.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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