Giants quarterback Kerry Collins used a baseball analogy to describe what has happened to his football team the last two weeks. The Giants dropped back-to-back one-point decisions, 15-14 in St. Louis and 10-9 on Monday night against Philadelphia, games in which the defense was masterful at limiting points, but the offense struggled to score them.
The Giants, in particular their offense, will try to get back on track Sunday when they play the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. "I think there is a sense of urgency to score points right now," Collins said today. "The defense is obviously playing really well and we aren't really helping out the cause right now. It is like a pitcher who pitches well and gives up an earned run or two, and gets no support from his offense. "We are working on it, though. We are moving the ball, we are doing good things. We are just not capitalizing on them."
If these Giants played baseball, Collins would bat cleanup, the player everyone expects to be the big run-producer. With the offense sputtering, particularly in the red zone, all eyes are on Collins to key a revival. Those around him are confident he will do just that. "He looks good," said split end Amani Toomer. "I don't know anybody on our team that's playing spectacular on offense. You can't put it all on Kerry. I don't think he's the problem."
"I think Kerry has been better than a lot of people have given him credit for," coach Jim Fassel said. "Can he play better? Yeah? Can we help him more? Yeah. He'll get better. I don't think he's frustrated. But is he happy and thrilled? Probably not. "I think in the first six games this year his numbers aren't a lot different than they were after the first six games last year. Then he continued to improve throughout the season. I'm not worried about Kerry." Fassel makes a good point. At this point in the season a year ago, the Giants were 4-2 and Collins statistically was pretty much where he sits right now.
Here's one more similarity that deserves notice: After six games last year the Giants had scored 101 points. After six games this season they have scored 100. "I think we are better this year than we were last year," Collins said. "If you look at the past few games, we have done good things. The reason we haven't scored points is because we hurt ourselves. We have no one to blame but ourselves. But there have been some things that I am really encouraged by, and I think there are some things that we have done better than at any point last year."
The most glaring difference from last season to this one is in the sacks, which have doubled over the same time period. But Fassel says there are a myriad of reasons behind the rise. "I'm always cautious with something specific like more sacks," Fassel said. "Everyone thinks the line is playing bad. Well, no. It's the line, it could be receivers not getting open, it could be the backs not blocking, it could be the quarterback holding the ball. I think it's a combination."
But the most visible symbol of an offense that has trouble scoring points is the quarterback. Collins accepts that responsibility. He doesn't dispute the idea that he can play better. "I think you can always improve on decision-making," Collins said. "Certainly I would like to cut down on the turnovers, and try to get us in the end zone more."
Whatever criticism he has received - and negative analysis regarding his play has been relatively benign in the New York media - it has not shaken the faith he has in his own ability. "I feel great confidence-wise," he said. "I'm practicing as well as I have ever practiced. I'm throwing the ball as well as I ever have. At times, I have felt really good in games, especially in the past three games. I feel good about where I am, and about a lot of things we are doing out there."
But some things must be done better. The last couple of games have produced one touchdown, and the Giants failed to cross the goal line from four shots inside the Philadelphia 20-yard line on Monday. The red zone failures in the first half, when the Giants settled for three field goals and missed a 3-point attempt on their fourth foray, were the primary reason they were red-faced after the game.
"Penalties are hurting us at times," Collins said when asked about the red zone blues. "If you are talking about the Eagles, I thought they did a good job against us in the red zone. They had the answers for a couple of our plays. We probably haven't executed our best when we needed to."
The recent strain to score points should not obscure the fact that Collins is putting together a commendable career. He did, of course, lead the Giants to the Super Bowl last season. His passing numbers on both third down and in the fourth period are better than his overall statistics. Collins is tied for second in the NFL with Brett Favre with four fourth-quarter touchdown passes. Jake Plummer leads the league with five.
Some other Collins nuggets: Collins became the Giants starting quarterback in Week 12 of the 1999 season against Arizona. Since then, Collins has thrown 962 passes, second in the NFL to Favre's 1,000. Peyton Manning is third with 937 attempts. Collins ranks fourth in completions since that weekend with 556. Favre tops that list with 608, followed by Manning (599), Jeff Garcia (581) and Collins. Elvis Grbac is fifth with 553 completions. Since becoming the starter, Collins is sixth in passing yardage with 6,557. Manning is in first place with 7,218, followed by Kurt Warner (6912), Garcia (6,860), Favre (6,847), Grbac (6,787) and Collins. Collins is 17-11 since moving into the starting lineup, a .607 winning percentage. Here's where he ranks among his contemporaries since Nov. 25, 1999 (minimum 20 games starter).
Since the start of the 2000 season, Collins has the fifth-highest winning percentage (minimum 15 starts).
Of course, Collins couldn't care less about statistics. He wants to score points and get the Giants offense playing as well as he believes it can. "I think we have been doing some good things and I think we are working really hard," he said. "I really do. I think we are practicing really well. All I can say, because of those two things, is that I feel good about the fact that we can have a better last two-thirds of the season that we did the first third of the season.
"But we are going to have to continue to work hard and guys are going to have to continue to understand that it is going to take a great effort. I think we all understand that and I think we are all getting there. Sometimes you have to have blind ambition that even though things haven't worked out the past couple games, if you keep working hard, all of a sudden a lot of good things start to happen. I think that is the attitude we have right now."
Oct. 25, 2001