Giant ‘D’ fierce as title defense begins

By Connor Byrne  |   Friday, September 05, 2008  |  Comments( 10 )

New York Giants
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Good thing the New York Giants' defense didn't believe its own recent press clippings.

After the June retirement of future Hall of Fame defensive end Michael Strahan and the August season-ending knee injury to fellow stud DE Osi Umenyiora, the Giants went from defending Super Bowl champions to a team that will be lucky to make the playoffs. Well, according to most NFL analysts, anyway.

But Thursday, when the league kicked off the 2008 campaign with a Meadowlands matchup between the Giants and the NFC East rival Washington Redskins, it was Big Blue's defense that conquered in a 16-7 victory which wasn't as close as the nine-point gap indicates. Sounds like last winter, eh, when New York's 'D' propelled it to four straight postseason triumphs and a place in the ultimate winner's circle?

Even without Strahan and Umenyiora, the Giants' stop unit was ferocious. It spoiled rookie Redskins head coach Jim Zorn's debut, making his play-calling and newly installed West Coast scheme look feeble in the process. Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell, who many believe will take the next step this year and become a truly capable starter, was rendered ineffective for much of the game. At times, the fourth-year man looked like the proverbial deer in the headlights -- but that's what happens when, on your first dropback of the season, you're assaulted by Giants end Justin Tuck for an 8-yard loss.

Though Tuck's was the only sack the Giants registered, they managed to pressure Campbell throughout the night and hold him to a mere 15 completions and 133 yards on 27 attempts. In addition to taking Washington's passing attack out of the game, the Giants kept running back Clinton Portis mostly in check; in total, he gained a fairly modest 84 yards on 23 carries.

All told, the Redskins' offense mustered just 11 first downs and 209 yards against coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's swarming, ultra-aggressive defense.

Offensively, the Giants failed to dazzle -- what else is new? -- but they were competent enough. Led by superb wideout Plaxico Burress (10 catches, 133 yards) and bruising running back Brandon Jacobs (21 carries, 116 yards), they set the tone from the get-go with an 84-yard, 11-play drive that culminated in a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Eli Manning; that was the only time the G-men found the end zone Thursday. Though they accrued an impressive 354 yards, including 154 on the ground, the Giants were stifled in the second half en route to a zero-point showing over the final 30 minutes.

Luckily for New York, though, its defense mimicked Washington's and held the Redskins off the scoreboard in the last two quarters, too.

"It was a great opening to the season," said Manning, who completed 19-of-35 passes for 216 yards and an interception.

To refer to the Giants' opening-night display as "great" is a stretch, but overall Thursday produced a sound debut for the new-look titlists.

In the end, 1-0 is all that matters.

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