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Giants are struggling to shorten field

©Associated Press

© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 22, 2001

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- When the Giants beat the Eagles in the playoffs last season, Ron Dixon set the tone.

The rookie receiver took the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. The play seemed to take the life out of the Eagles, and the Giants coasted to a 20-10 win, their ninth straight over Philadelphia.

When the teams meet tonight at Giants Stadium, the chances of Dixon doing the same aren't good.

Dixon didn't practice all week after spraining an ankle in a 15-14 loss to the Rams. His status for tonight is iffy.

Safety Omar Stoutmire, running back Damon Washington and rookie defensive back DeWayne Patmon, who has never returned in an NFL game, will handle the kickoffs if Dixon can't go.

Even with Dixon, the Giants kickoff teams have been horrible. What was an advantage last season has become a problem the Eagles may be able to exploit in a matchup that will determine first place in the NFC East.

The Giants' average starting position after receiving a kickoff is the 22.5, worst in the NFL. Their opponents' average starting point following a kickoff is the 32.1, also worst in the league.

Dixon, who also scored on a kickoff return in the Super Bowl, has averaged 20 yards on 11 kickoff returns this season, a major disappointment after he averaged 34 yards in the playoffs.

"I don't know the reason," Dixon said. "I'm just sitting back and trying to do what I'm supposed to do. I'm waiting for it to happen."

Dixon said there is plenty of blame to go around.

"We have to come together as a unit and, as far as me, I have to start going downhill instead of laterally," he said. "That's a difficult task. Your mind has to be set on that. I just have to be more of a downhill runner."

Linebacker Jack Golden said there are number of reasons for the problems.

Not only have players changed, but the Giants' system is a little different with Fred von Appen replacing Larry Mac Duff as special teams coach.

"Teams are also kicking away from Dixon," Golden said. "A lot of teams saw what he did last year, and they don't want him to come out and set the tempo."

Tonight's game

Eagles at Giants

WHEN/WHERE: 9; Meadowlands, East Rutherford, N.J.

TV/RADIO: Ch. 28; WQYK-AM 1010.

LINE: Giants by 3.

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