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Swapping questions with Ernie Palladino

[Ernie Palladino is a long-time New York Giants beat writer for the Journal-News who is a now a full-fledged member of the blogosphere, writing about the Giants at Ernie Palladino's Giants Beat. Ernie and I will be answering the same set of questions each week. Ernie's answers are below. Check out his site for my answers.]

From Ernie: Before we get to questions and answers, let me first say what an honor it is to be a guest on the Big Blue View. You guys have been around a long time, and your loyalty to this space is very impressive. If I get half the support on my spot, I'll be delighted.

So let's answer some questions.

1. What would you do to correct the 0-8 Red Zone problems?

Ernie's Answer: Well, first of all, let's tailor this a little. In fairness, they're really 0-7 because that last field goal drive Sunday night wasn't designed to score a touchdown. But, hey, 0-7 is pretty bad, especially at the beginning of the season.

I think Dallas provided the answer. And it's really common sense, when you think about it. What did they do when they got in close? Bunch up? Nope. They spread the field. Two and three wide sets. That way, the corners and at least one of the safeties has to respect the possibility of the quarterback throwing it into the end zone. And that leaves fewer players to crash the middle, even if you decide to send Brandon Jacobs head-long into a 958-pound defensive tackle like Albert Haynesworth. The quarterback draw was a perfect case in point. The Cowboys were spread out enough at the 2 that all guard Leonard Davis and tackle Marc Colombo had to do was seal one DT and pile-drive the other to give Tony Romo a clear path to the end zone. It worked to perfection.

That was a goal line situation, however, which was something the Giants were not presented with in Dallas. But they did get to the 20 and in four times before the final field goal. They were plenty spread enough. But on each occasion, Eli Manning threw to receivers before the end zone. Not a single pass -- we're not counting Mario Manningham's touchdown because it came from the 22 -- went into the end zone. And the worst of the bunch was the lousy two-yard completion that found Steve Smith on third-and-goal from the 12 in the second quarter. He never had a chance to fight his way through the secondary.

I'm thinking, and I'm mighty curious, about rookie Ramses Barden here. He wasn't used at all in the passing offense despite being active while fellow rookie Hakeem Nicks' foot heals. At 6-foot-6, it would seem he'd be an ideal Red Zone target. It's a limited playbook down there. Let him line up wide and throw that Plaxico Burress fade to the corner. Worst-case scenario, the kid doesn't get open and it gets knocked away or falls out of bounds. And who knows? Maybe he out leaps a DB and puts up six. The Giants can always use that, right?

2. Where will Mario Manningham be in five games?

Ernie's Answer: Interesting thought. Right now, he's looking like and playing like a starter. And you can't quibble with his production, 14 catches for 208 yards and two touchdowns. He's showing outstanding speed and concentration on the imperfectly-thrown passes, and he's playing both flanker and split end spots. That's great production for a second-year kid who's really more of a rookie because of injuries last year.

But let's stop right there. It's too early to anoint him as the next great wide receiver. The situation may be very different by the time this team hit's the Arizona game on Oct. 25. Teams are going to have plenty of tape on this kid by then, and defenses are definitely going to make adjustments. He might see double-teams if he continues along these lines, and those could be hard for him to deal with. Also, teams are eventually going to stop stacking the box against Brandon Jacobs so they can drop that safety into coverage. That, too, might clog things up.

Consider, too, that a lot of Manningham's production right now is tied to the health and welfare of Domenik Hixon. If not for Hixon's knee injury Sunday night, Manningham would have remained the slot receiver and probably not have caught 10 passes. But there's no doubt he's earned more playing time, and perhaps in a featured role even if Hixon does make a healthy return. Still, look for Manningham's numbers to drop either way as defenses start rolling in his direction.

3. Is Osi Umenyiora the same player as he was in his Pro Bowl year of 2007?

Ernie's Answer: No. He might still be recovering from the knee surgery that cost him 2008, but he doesn't seem to have that old speed. Granted, he made a fantastic play in the opener, swatting the ball from Jason Campbell and returning it for a touchdown. But that was really the only play he made that game. And last week, he only hit Romo once. He never really got close the rest of the time. The old Osi would have at least been chasing him around.

It's too early to call him a liability, but he hasn't done well against the run, either. A whole bunch of the Cowboys' runs went his way, and he wasn't even in the frame. He finished with one tackle, giving him seven on the season. Not exactly what you'd expect out of him. But it's early. And he did have Flozell Adams most of the time. But the fact that he never really got around him is cause for concern.

4. What will this win do for the Giants long-range?

Ernie's Answer: Hard to say. Off-hand, you'd think the emotional momentum would carry them a long way. But we've seen more than once the hangover effect. It could come this week against a bad Tampa Bay squad. But the fact that Eli engineered yet another comeback victory should give them confidence that, in a bad-case scenario, if they remain within a touchdown or 10 points of the Bucs, they'll always have a chance to win. Every team is different, and until it comes back on an opponent, the level of faith has to be low. The arrow's pointing up now, thanks to the heart-pounding finish in Dallas.