With 9:23 remaining in a 20-10 game, the 75,000-plus Giants fans were packed into Giants Stadium buzzing with excitement. The Giants had dominated the battle that is typically imperative to win during these NFC East bouts: ball control.
With a clearly worn-down Washington defense, many in the stadium—and around the nation, expected the Giants to smash the ball down the Redskins' throats and milk the clock to seal the victory.
But the offensive coordinator, who is the first to receive blame when things go wrong and the last to receive credit when the offense is in peak form, had other plans.
Instead of placing the ball in the hands of arguably the most reliable running back combination in the league to ensure victory, Kevin Gilbride elected to win it with his wide receiver troops that have been chastised for nearly nine months.
The drive started at the 19-yard line, following a false start by Madison Hedgecock on first down. Instead of setting up a more reasonable third down by methodically running the ball, the Giants were aggressive. They threw the ball three straight times, risking a quick three and out and relinquishing their momentum.
Thanks to impeccable execution from both Manning and his receivers, failure never ensued. On 3rd-and-5, Manning dropped a beautiful pass in a tight window to Steve Smith, who adjusted nicely to complete a critical 26-yard pass.
At midfield, the Giants continued to impose their passing game on a seemingly perplexed Redskins' defense. After a run by Brandon Jacobs that went for negative yards, Manning got cornerback Charles Rogers to bite on a pump fake and nearly completed a 25-yard pass to Domenik Hixon. Although they could not connect, the excellent fake drew an illegal contact penalty.
After another short Bradshaw run, Manning displayed the kind of adeptness that the Giants paid him the big bucks for this offseason with a 27-yard pass to Kevin Boss that put the Giants in position to make it a two touchdown game.
Ultimately, the Giants would finish the drive at the Redskins 11, and Lawrence Tynes proceeded to drill a 28-yard kick to cap off a six-minute drive that contained eight passes in 10 plays.
This drive has taken a backseat to Osi Umenyiora’s memorable return and Justin Tuck’s dominant performance. But its importance should not be minimized. The Giants insisted all week that if the Redskins loaded the box to stop the run, the Giants would make them pay through the air.
And the Giants did just that on their last offensive series. The Redskins are not a soft defense by any means, and credit should be issued to the entire offense—including Kevin Gilbride—for outstanding execution to cap off a very efficient opening day victory.
In the Zone?
When Bill Sheridan was initially hired he explained that he would try to abandon the use of the zone blitz, stating, “When you get into zone (blitzes), you have down guys dropping. And you're never going to get away from that, but as much as we can, we're going to try to orchestrate so that our pass rushers are rushing because that's our strength. We recognize that and everybody knows that."
I didn’t focus too much on that during the game, but on the Redskins' final touchdown drive, Sheridan employed the zone blitz. And it was a 16-yard pass to Antwaan Randle El that came with little pressure and even less coverage. Maybe Sheridan is trying to put some extra film up for Dallas next week.
The Red Sea will part soon
Although the running game did not quite run through the Redskins' defense as they did other teams last year, there’s nothing to worry about. There were broad running lanes when plays were initially developed, but the holes were swallowed up quickly. By December, that will not be the case. Defenses will be worn down and those runs that went for three yards on Sunday could go up to 15 or 20 come playoff time.
Tuck it in
Is it me, or does Justin Tuck look like he’s hurt after every play? The dude’s an animal, but I can’t help be worried watching him from my seat walk around groggily for three hours.