One thing about the New York Giants, they always seem to come up with a plan. Last Sunday, just two weeks after they had been mauled by the Cleveland Browns in Yankee Stadium, the plan became pretty obvious: they didn't intend to let the same thing happen again.
The Giants kicked off to the boos of more than 84,000 people in Cleveland's Municipal Stadium and in less than five minutes they had scored 10 points. Before the afternoon was over, they had scored 33, which was hardly so remarkable as the fact that the undefeated Browns were able to score just six. The Giants stopped Jimmy Brown, the best running back in the history of the National Football League; they stopped Frank Ryan, the previously sensational Cleveland quarterback; they stopped the idle conversation of a lot of people who had already buried the Giants for 1963. When it was all over and the shock was wearing off, those same people were beginning to remember that the Giants won their last nine games last year.
The secret was an adjustment by Giant Coach Allie Sherman, a defensive adjustment dictated by the success of the Brown attack in the first game between the teams. The problem, of course, was how to contain Jimmy Brown, and Sherman took a calculated risk by changing the play of his linebackers. Instead of dropping off the line of scrimmage, looking for the pass before they reacted to the run, on Sunday they played Brown tight, getting to him before he could clear the line of scrimmage.
"We could have been hurt if Ryan had thrown behind our linebackers," said Jim Patton, the Giant safety man. "But we were getting such good pressure on Ryan that he didn't have time to throw."
November 4, 1963
The Browns, of course, had adjusted their offense and defense, too. But canny old Y. A. Tittle, whose brain can be as quick as his arm, changed his huddle call at the line of scrimmage on nearly every play throughout the first half.
"They were in an odd line," Tittle explained. "We expected them to be in a four-three most of the time, so I had to change off. If the crowd had been noisy, I might have had trouble. But they were pretty quiet."
The 84,000 Clevelanders were quiet for good reason. The first time Brown carried the ball, it was raked out of his arms by Giant Tackle John LoVetere, and Sam Huff pounced on it. The Giants got a field goal out of this Brown bumble, and 25 seconds later they had their first touchdown after a beautiful play by Patton, who cut across in front of Cleveland End John Brewer to intercept a pass on the Browns' 35.
This interception was the result of a tremendous rush by the Giant line that kept Ryan in difficulty all afternoon. Andy Robustelli, who plays defensive end for the Giants and calls their defensive plays, sent his linebackers in after the Cleveland quarterbacks on a variety of blitzes. The Brown blockers often picked up the penetrating linebackers, but they overlooked the tackles and ends. Jim Katcavage, in particular, had a wonderful afternoon thumping Ryan to the ground.
After Patton's interception, Tittle wasted no time in scoring again. Jim Shofner, the good corner back for Cleveland, had been hurt in the first Cleveland-Giant game, and Bobby Franklin, his replacement, has played safety much more than he has corner back. In this game, the thankless task of trying to cover Del Shofner fell to Franklin, and Tittle tested him at once. Shofner got behind Franklin and Tittle hit him with a 23-yard touchdown pass.
The game was over by then, although it was only three minutes and 49 seconds old. The Browns had had the ball twice, lost it on a fumble and an interception, and the Giants had scored both times.
Allie Sherman's answer to Brown's deadly running became obvious on Cleveland's third series. The Giant linebackers, playing up very close, smothered the big fullback for three-, five-and one-yard gains and the Browns were forced to punt.
On their fourth series Ryan shifted to the air but, under grievous stress from the Giant line, never had time to find his receivers. The Browns were finished. The Giants, playing errorless defensive football, had completely shut off the most effective attack in football. Their own offense, predicated on the short gain and ball control, worked very well.
"We threw out the bomb," Sherman said. "We never went for the long one. We wanted to control the ball. Short passes and running. That's what we planned and that's what we did. We showed how the Browns can be beaten."
So effective was the Giant strategy of short gains and ball control that New York had possession of the ball more than twice as much as did Cleveland—78 plays against 38. The Giants gained a total of 387 yards and Tittle completed 21 of 31 passes. But most typical of all the Giants on this day was their best ballcarrier of the afternoon, elderly Hugh McElhenny. The night before the game McElhenny, who has all the elusiveness of a waterbug but who has lost some of his speed, was morose.
"I'm not playing enough," he told a friend. "I'm not criticizing Sherman. He has done a wonderful job and I can understand it, but I wish I could get in more. I still think I can run if I get the chance."
He ran magnificently against the Browns, looking now and then as good as he ever has. He scored one of the Giant touchdowns on a six-yard pass from Tittle; en route, he left two Brown defenders hanging in midair.
Despite their victory, the Giants are still a game behind the Browns. More to the point, they must depend on someone else to beat Cleveland in the weeks to come, since the two teams do not play again. And although Sherman has pointed out that the Giants have now established a pattern for beating the Browns, whether any other team in the league is capable of following this pattern as closely as the Giants did on Sunday seems doubtful.
In any case, the Browns probably will never again play a team that can execute a game plan—offense and defense—as flawlessly as did the Giants on this particular afternoon.