NEW YORK: TRIM, TIDY AND TELEPATHIC
The wise old New York Giants last week demonstrated that four coaches on the field are worth more than one on the sideline, and in the course of their demonstration they won their sixth straight victory over the Cleveland Browns 17-13.
They won this game calmly, meticulously and, above all, with professional efficiency. The Giants are thoroughly accustomed to the Cleveland offense. They seem as familiar as Paul Brown's messenger guards with each play the Cleveland coach sends in. By contrast, Charlie Conerly, the elderly Giant quarterback, used a simple but effective armament of some six plays to peck away at the inflexible and confused Cleveland defense. Had he been able to pass with his accustomed accuracy, the score might more clearly have reflected the difference in the quality of these two teams on this snowy, cold afternoon.
Twice early in the game Conerly missed Giant receivers open for touchdown passes. Thereafter, he probed steadily at the Cleveland ground defense, throwing rarely. He has been crippled by the football equivalent of a tennis elbow for several weeks and is only now at the stage he would normally reach after the second week of practice.
"He did a wonderful job," said Al Sherman, the Giants' bright young offensive coach. "He was changing the signal at the line of scrimmage at least 50% of the time and he was hitting their weak spot every time."
The principal Cleveland weakness is a curious inflexibility, both on offense and defense. The Giants, on running plays, have used their halfbacks most of this season; for this game Conerly time and again called on Mel Triplett, the big fullback, who responded by gaining 137 yards on 24 carries into a Cleveland defense bemused by the halfback fakes. Then, late in the game, when Cleveland somewhat tardily adjusted to the off-center bolts of Triplett, Conerly sent Frank Gifford sliding outside the flanks. Sometimes, for the sake of variety, Conerly sent Triplett wide; this play, designed to take advantage of the quick, invariable reactions of the well-schooled Brown linebackers, saw Triplett feint at the center, then veer outside the tackle. The play succeeded almost every time it was used.
The Cleveland touchdown came in the third quarter, following a Giant fumble on the Giant 13-yard line, and it put the Browns ahead 13-10. Then Conerly, on a calm, beautifully sustained drive, took the Giants 80 yards in 14 plays for the touchdown that won the game. The sequence of his play selection on this march exploited every Cleveland weakness and shows clearly how well the Giants were prepared for this particular game and how befuddled the Cleveland defense had grown.
First, Conerly sent Triplett thumping straight ahead to remind the Browns of their vulnerability in the center of the line. Then he faked to Triplett, whirled and threw a short pass wide to Frank Gifford, good for a first down. ("There are pockets in the Cleveland pass defense," Sherman had said before the game. "There are zones in which it is hard for them to cover. If Charlie could throw the way he usually does, we could exploit all of them. We'll probably have to stick with the short ones.")
Conerly went back to Triplett again, sending him over guard on a trap play for six yards. The Cleveland defense squeezed in again, and the gray, calm Giant quarterback shifted his attack outside the tackles, first with Gifford, then with Triplett on the play that feints at the center of the line.
Early in the game Conerly had been successful with a draw play—a fake pass and late handoff to the fullback—using Triplett; now he used the same call but handed the ball to Gifford, and the unsuspecting Cleveland defense was victimized for 12 yards. He passed to Kyle Rote, incomplete, to remind the Browns that he could still throw short; then, audaciously, he used the draw play again and Triplett whipped through a wide avenue in the middle of the Cleveland line for 16 yards.