Monday, August 17, 2015

Frank Gifford and the 1952 New York Giants

by TJ Troup

Frank Gifford. Credit: New York Giants
PROLOGUE: Yesterday the 16th would have been Frank Gifford's birthday. So, let us take a look back at his rookie season, and team in transition, the 1952 Giants.

COACHING: Steve Owen returned, hopefully, to continue being a contender for a divisional crown. His staff consists of line coach Ed Kolman, ends coach Jim Lee Howell, and backfield coach Allie Sherman. Owen continued to use the "A" formation on offense, yet the T-formation with either a full house backfield, or a halfback "flanked" out or in motion, which is the most utilized formation. Owen with able assistance from Tom Landry will be creative in both the "umbrella" defense (a version of the 4-3), or an over shifted 5-2. The Giants will play both man-to-man and a form of rolled zone coverage.

PERSONNEL: Thirty-five men suited up for the Giants during the campaign; with 15 players in their last or only season with New York. Nine rookies make the squad, with some of them being solid contributors. Bob McChesney (in last year) is the starting left end, while Bill Stribling starts at right end. Though neither is very fast, they are sure-handed and reliable route runners. They both are aligned, at times, in a closed or flexed position, yet neither is a strong blocker.

Rookie Hal Mitchell (his only NFL season) attempts to play left tackle; and while he is adequate at run blocking, he lacks the quick feet, and strength to handle the top pass rushing right defensive ends (the debacle against Norm "Wild Man" Willey of Philadelphia). Tex Coulter (his last NFL year) starts at center, but when John Rapacz is in the line-up Coulter moves to left tackle. Strong and combative, he can drive block with the best of 'em, but he also does not have the quick feet necessary to pass block.

Rookies Ray Beck and George Kennard have strong seasons at the guard position as they both demonstrate the ability to pull, trap, and position-block bigger men. When rookie Dick Yelvington is on the field at right tackle the Giants have a creditable o-line, but injuries keep him out of 5 games, and he is replaced by veteran Al DeRogatis (also his last last year). DeRogatis also fills in on defense, yet his best days are behind him.

Rookie left halfback Frank Gifford is in and out of the line-up. He carries the ball 32 times for 104 yards the first five games of the year, but only has 6 carries for 12 yards in the final five games of the year. Gifford is not called upon as a receiver very much during the campaign, but his first attempt at a half-back option pass resulted in a touchdown. Though he has talent, no one knows just how much since he contributes little and is injured twice during the year. Gifford fills in some at right corner, and right safety the first half of the year, but in the final game of the season he plays left corner against Cleveland and shows he can handle the challenge of the this demanding position as he intercepts (first time in league history that three future Hall of Famers intercept in the same game), and is a strong tackler.

Kyle Rote is the nominal starter at left halfback, and can cut back against the grain, and make many a tackler miss. He is also an excellent receiver (has a team high 7 catches in the season ending victory over the Browns). Right halfback is usually Joe Scott, and he also is a sure handed receiver with speed, but his penchant for fumbles, and injury limits his playing time. Bob Wilkinson (last NFL year) attempts to play halfback though he is plodding slow, and just does not deliver as a runner.

Charley Conerly misses some playing time late in the season, but when he is on his game he can deliver the accurate pass. Fred Benners (only NFL year) has his one shining moment as a quarterback in the victory over Washington. The key to the offense is undersized bulldog determined fullback Eddie Price. He gains 631 yards on 125 carries in the six Giant victories he plays in (missed final game of the season), but just 117 yards on 58 carries in the five losses. While he is solid on sweep plays, he runs the trap with aplomb, and though he lacks size he can both accelerate past, and bounce off of tacklers.

Stout Steve Owen has had success with his umbrella and over shifted 5-2 defense for the past couple of seasons, and at times in '52 they are one of the toughest defenses in the league. John Amberg (last season as well) plays both left and right corner (some on offense as a halfback), and while he is a willing run defender, he struggles as a pass defender. Harmon Rowe(again, last NFL season) is the usual starter at right corner (also plays some right safety), and he also demonstrated a willingness to come up on the run. He lacks the speed to handle receivers on deep routes, and is torched by Mac Speedie (8 for 161), Gordie Soltau (10 for 196), and Hugh Taylor (6-195)during the year.

Don Menasco in his rookie year is the nominal starter at left corner, and when in rolled zone he is a strong run defender, but he also struggles at times in pass coverage. The safety position though is handled by the best duo in the league. Tom Landry moved to left safety for the year and is excellent in pursuit, a physical tackler, and a savvy pass defender (especially in zone coverage). Emlen Tunnell moves from left to right safety and continues to be one of the handful of truly gifted deep pass defenders in the league. Never out of position, and has the knack of being where the ball is, while also contributing in pursuit in run defense and as a kick returner (especially punts).

Tunnell and Jimmy Patton. Colorization by John Turney
Though Jim Duncan might align as the left defensive end, he drops into coverage as the left linebacker a high percentage of the time. Strong on sweeps, he retains his pass rushing ability when called upon. Ray Poole (another in his last year) aligns as the right defensive end. He usually attempts to rush the passer. He is just not the player he once was as his inconsistent play tells the tale as a pass rusher and run defender, yet he has some highlight film moments late in the year.

John Cannady is not chosen for the Pro Bowl, but he sure was he aligned at different spots on the field, he usually is either stacked behind Jon Baker, the middle guard, or head up on the center as a 4-3 MLB. Savvy, quick, sheds blocks well, and is a strong tackler, Cannady is adept at zone coverage, and leads this defense during the campaign.

The strength of this team though is the defensive line. Second-year man Ray Krouse is on the right side (depending on the alignment he is right defensive tackle or end. Strong at the point of attack, and tremendous in pursuit for a big man he has a very bright future in this league. Jon Baker (last NFL season) earns a Pro Bowl berth as the middle guard/right defensive tackle. He sheds blocks well, and is able in pursuit. Baker often shoved the pass pocket back into the quarterback's face on pass plays. Probably the most underrated d-line in the league is "Big" Bill Albright at left defensive tackle. Immovable, and a relentless pass rusher he has an outstanding year next to future Hall of Famer Arnie Weinmeister. Consistently beats the double team block when aligned at 5-2 defensive tackle, he will not allow a sweep his side as a 4-3 defensive end. Surprisingly quick for a man his size, he is a force as a pass rusher, and hits like a Mack truck.

Arnie Weinmeister. Colorization by John Turney
WHAT THE STATS TELL US: The Giant defense stops the run, whether they win or lose (195-703 in seven wins, and 209-600 in the five losses). The key to this season is the pass. Win New York wins they complete 66 of 134 for 967 yards with 11 touchdowns and just 7 interceptions (passer rating of 78.8). In the five losses New York passers complete just 55 of 146 for 746 yards, with just 5 going for touchdowns, and 15 interceptions (passer rating of 26.6). The Giant secondary allows 59 of 112 for 987 yards with 12 touchdowns and just 7 interceptions in the five losses(passer rating of 92.4), while in the seven wins opponent passers complete 102 of 225 for 1,527 yards, with just 6 going for touchdowns, while the New York thieves pilfer 21 (passer rating of 38.1).

GAME OF SIGNIFICANCE: The impressive win over contending San Francisco in the Polo Grounds has the Giants looking strong at 5-2, and having already beaten the Browns they control their own destiny at this point in the season. The shocker is the home loss to Green Bay (the Packers gain only 121 yards on offense), but late in the second quarter Rote fumbled at his own 43 (Self of Green Bay recovers). Parilli completes 3 passes to Carl Elliott on the drive; which leads to a Parilli sneak and a half-time lead. The opening drive in the third quarter, Conerly fumbles and Faverty recovered at the New York twenty-two yard line. Parilli finds Mann open for a 2 yard flip and a 14-3 lead. The Giant offense fell apart in the fourth quarter as Connerly and Benners threw 3 interceptions, and are sacked three times by Ab Wimberly as New York is stunned 17-3.

New York must beat the Redskins on the road to stay in contention. The Giants kicked-off to the 'Skins and Washington moves down the field on a chain moving ground game, but the 'Skins missed field goal gives New York the ball. The Giants punt after three plays, but Washington behind crisp passes to Taylor from LeBaron take the lead 3-0, and get the ball right back with Johnny Williams end zone interception. In the second quarter and Gifford is stopped for a second time on a sweep right and is replaced in the line-up by Kyle Rote. The next Redskin drive is stopped by John Cannady's alert interception, but New York again punted, but Tunnell intercepts the tipped pass (Menasco) to stop the 'Skins. At the half Washington 3 New York 0. Third quarter: New York is again forced to punt as the running game is just not in sync. The long Redskin touchdown march is by both run, pass, and penalty (on Cannaday's interception). The key play to set up the score is LeBaron scramble right and finding Bones Taylor open again. Washington punches it in, and leads 10-0.

The reeling Giants are watching their season fade in our Nations Capitol. Rookie back-up quarterback Fred Benners completed passes to Rote and Scott, while Price and Rote pound out the yardage on the ground. Kyle dives over the left side to put the Giants back in the game. A bad snap from center on the extra point is a highlight for replaced quarterback Charley Conerly as the veteran hot foots it inside the left flag to score the needed point. Late in the quarter and LeBaron miss read the Giant zone as left safety Tom Landry intercepted an errant throw. 4th quarter: The Giant ground game pounds away as as Eddie Price gains 13 over the right side, and he finishes the drive with a 14 yard run behind Ray Beck's superb block on a trap right. New York 14 Washington 10 The 'Skins go nowhere, and New York drives relentlessly down field to put the game away, but Joe Scott fumbles the ball deep in Washington territory gave the 'Skins one last chance, but the promising drive ends in a Menasco interception as Jon Baker blasts into LeBaron on the failed pass play. The Giants ran out the clock and are back in contention at 6 and 3.

SUMMATION: The losses to Pittsburgh and the return match with Washington due to injuries to Conerly and Benners put a damper on the season, but the impressive season ending win over Cleveland tells one and all that on their best day New York can beat anyone.