August 07, 2003
Opening Salvo: Defense Makes Giant Splash
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- If Bill Parcells were still here, Dan Klecko would be a terrific candidate for the "He's not ready for Canton yet!" speech.
That said, many of you will no doubt have had pleasant Klecko dreams last night. So what if he's too small to play down, just put him at outside backer. Any day now Bobby Hamilton will look like Mark Gastineau and Richard Seymour will resemble Marty Lyons.
Singling out Klecko is easy, but finding one or two basic positives that can be derived from New England's 26-6 preseason win over the New York Giants in the rain at Gillette Stadium is impossible. There were positives abounding everywhere, mostly on defense. Klecko was merely the brightest light amongst a host of players, mostly of the newbie persuasion, who performed well enough to make all of Patriot Nation look forward to a great defense in 2003.
The best way to judge a team's condition after the preseason opener, if that is at all possible or feasible, is to see how well it does when first string plays first string. In preseason openers, that is usually over with before the first quarter ends, and almost never continues on into the second. If this be the case, the Patriots won this in a slamdunk, with the defense again stealing the show and showing that they are miles ahead of the offense.
Klecko led a band of new guys who did rather well in their Patriot debuts. Some of the old guys did all right as well. Klecko mostly shined in the second half against the soon-to-be-cut gang, so we'll begin with guys who we knew going into the game figured to be vital cogs in the Patriot defensive machine.
The shift to end seems to be a great fit for Seymour. In his brief duty tonight, he pressured Kerry Collins with regularity and tallied one tackle and one sack. He exploded off the line very well, and will likely require double-teaming in the regular season.
Rosevelt Colvin had a terrific debut for the Patriots. He figured in both first quarter turnovers, which led to 10 Patriot points and a 10-0 lead when the regulars departed. He stripped Tiki Barber on the game's second play, and Ted Johnson recovered. Later in the quarter, he and Seymour pressured Collins into a Tyrone Poole interception deep in Giant territory. Collins finished with a passer rating of only 35.8.
In summarizing both Seymour and Colvin together, get used to one very important concept: speed. Both men bring that element to the Patriot defense, something which hasn't been seen in quite a while, even in the championship year two years ago. Nobody on the Giant line could deal with either player at all. Granted, it is early in the season, but it does give Patriot opponents plenty to sweat over. You can't coach speed, and in some cases, you can't defend it, either.
Both starting cornerbacks, rookies Eugene Wilson and Asante Samuel, looked very good and defended passes extremely well. Wilson made a great play from the cornerback position in tackling Barber on a left end run in the opening period for a short gain, preventing a much longer run. Samuel laid a huge hit on Daryl Jones on a five-yard pass play in the second quarter, and cut down Ron Dayne on a screen pass early in the same period, holding the Giants to a field goal attempt.
Up to this point, it must be made clear that the first team offensive threats for the Giants include, other than Barber, guys like Amani Toomer, Ike Hilliard and Jeremy Shockey. None of these four stars made any sort of impact against the first defensive unit of the Patriots. Barber, a 1,300-plus yard rusher in 2002, is a premier NFL back who was totally shellacked tonight. Shockey, considered by many as the best tight end in the league, was the intended receiver when Tyrone Poole picked off Collins in the first period.
Rodney Harrison made only one noteworthy play, but it was a jewel. Late in the first quarter, Barber swung around left end and was ready to spring into the clear down the left sideline. Harrison chased him down and knocked him out of bounds for only three yards. Harrison didn't stick anyone with a thundering hit, but this one play showed Patriot Nation the speed and pursuit ability of this All-Pro.
Klecko didn't surface until the scrubs came in, and literally took over the game in the second half. On the final drive of the first half, Klecko pressured reserve quarterback Jesse Palmer twice, the second time driving him from the pocket and off on a 13-yard scramble (thanks to Matt Chatham not being there for containment).
On the first drive of the third quarter for the Giants, Klecko stuffed Dayne for a one-yard loss, then on the next play sacked Palmer for a 13-yard loss. On both of these plays, he was lined up at right outside linebacker and not nose tackle. Later in the same period, Klecko sacked Palmer for a six-yard loss, then helped Chatham record a sack on the first play of the final quarter.
As proud papa Joe watched from the stands and then the sideline, son Dan immediately won over a legion of delirious Patriot fans. There was a sign in the stadium which said "Klecko's Corner". It is said that Klecko is perhaps the strongest Patriot, and he may also be one of the quickest, as well as the most versatile. What will really pose a challenge for the young Klecko will be how he handles things when coaches begin to gameplan for him.
To pretty much tie things together, the Giants were held to only 186 total yards in the entire game. The Patriots outgained them in every area except kickoff returns. Because the teams meet in the regular season later on this year, neither offense wanted to give anything away. But one has to wonder if the Patriots would have let anything go, even if the Giants were trying to run their normal offense. One might predict that Shockey will not have such a quiet game in the regular season, but he will have tonight's lightning-quick Patriot defense to think about.
Aside from the defense, the only Patriot to distinguish himself was Adam Vinatieri, who hit on all four of his field goal attempts. Nobody on offense did much to squawk about, though Rohan Davey and Tom Brady had huge passer rating numbers and rookie Bethel Johnson did haul in a 42-yard bomb in the third period. The top Patriot rushers were Patrick Pass and Frank Moreau. Enough said right there.
When things get more real later on, the speed will definitely come in handy. As long as they stay healthy, opposing offenses are being put on notice. The Patriots will not finish near the bottom in defensive categories in 2003.
Now, we must wonder if Ty Law and Otis Smith see themselves as starters anymore.
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