Players, not plays

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The players were different but the plays were unmistakably the same.

The Giants flanker went into motion and I saw Keenan McCardell. Jeremy Shockey shifted to a new spot in the formation and I saw Pete Mitchell. Plaxico Burress stood frozen on the left side at the line of scrimmage and I saw Jimmy Smith.

When Tom Coughlin was coaching the Jaguars, he called it the old Giants offense. Now he's coaching the Giants and he's using what I consider to be the old Jaguars offense.

Unfortunately for Coughlin, however, the old Jaguars offense wasn't as successful on Monday night as it was when Smith, McCardell and Mitchell were catching the ball. Why not? That's easy: The quarterback wasn't Mark Brunell in his prime.

Quarterback is always the answer. It's always been about the quarterback, and never more so than in today's game.

One of my favorite expressions is: Players, not plays. It's absolutely the truth and Monday night was the proof. The same plays called by the same coach on the same field moved the ball with ease seven, eight years ago. What changed? The players changed, and the most significant of those players is the quarterback.

There's nothing wrong with Burress and Shockey. They're big-time receivers. And there's sure nothing wrong with having Tiki Barber in your backfield. The difference was Eli Manning who, in his third pro season, is struggling. He's not getting it done. Simply put, he's not Brunell in his prime.

Here's another favorite expression: The best teams have the best quarterbacks.

If you have a guy at quarterback who you know is the long-term fix at the position, you are at a wonderful advantage. That's the advantage Indianapolis has enjoyed since 1998. New England has had that advantage since 2001. Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and San Diego have young guys they figure to be their "Man" for a long time and that makes the Bengals, Steelers and Chargers blessed.

At this point in time, Coughlin may be cursed. Manning was one of three quarterbacks taken in the first 11 picks of the 2004 draft. He was the first pick of that draft and the Giants traded away picks to acquire Manning, one of which was used by the Chargers to select Shawne Merriman. Now, it appears as though the deal to acquire Manning was a horrible mistake. The Giants could've kept their picks and chosen either Phillip Rivers or Ben Roethlisberger and come out way ahead.

Everything else about Coughlin's team looks good. He's got a premier runner, premier receivers and a defense that'll be just fine when it gets its star players back from injury. What Coughlin may not have is the trigger man, and that's why the old Jaguars offense isn't working.

The Jaguars have a new trigger man. David Garrard is auditioning to become the Jaguars' long-term fix at the position and, so far, he's proving his point. What Garrard does in what's left of this season will determine the Jaguars' ultimate fate this season.

In that sense, Jack Del Rio is in no different a situation than the man who preceded him. Del Rio needs Garrard to lead the Jaguars just as Coughlin needs Manning to lead the Giants.

Quarterbacks lead the way. That's the way it is and as much as coaches talk about quarterbacks being "managers of the game" and "not making mistakes" and being "efficient," the simple fact of the matter is that you're not going to win a championship in today's game if your quarterback doesn't play at a championship level.

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