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Tom Coughlin's plea: Make a play!

Tight end Larry Donnell of the Giants slaps

Tight end Larry Donnell of the Giants slaps hands with head coach Tom Coughlin during a game against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on Sept. 25, 2014 in Landover, Md. Credit: Getty Images / Rob Carr

It's come to this: Tom Coughlin practically begging his team to perform.

"Make the play!'' he said emphatically at his news conference Thursday. "Make plays! Please, make plays! Run around, jump up and down, do whatever you want! Scramble, bring a guy across from the other side of the field, throw the ball up in the air, catch it and run into the end zone!''

In other words, "I think this team has to play above the X's and the O's.''

The Giants have spent the last six months learning the playbook inside and out, and Coughlin said he is pleased with how they have mastered that part. But what he wants -- and what playing "above the X's and O's'' means -- is for them to do more than what is on the page. They need to rely on their instincts. They need to not only know the plays but start to insert their abilities in them.

As the Giants return from their bye week and prepare to face the Colts, they are hoping to use some applied knowledge to their benefit. That's why no fewer than five players parroted that phrase -- "above the X's and O's'' -- to the media.

Don't think of the playbook as a script that has to be followed down to the last word, they are saying. Think of it as a framework that allows for some improvisation and personality to come through.

"The coaching staff has done a good job of reiterating to us, 'Just go out there and play free, play fast,' '' defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said. "If you know your assignment and you can explain why you did or didn't do something, they'll trust us They'll believe in us.''

It hasn't been easy to make that leap, especially because there are so many young and new players on the roster. There can be a fear of making a mistake.

"There has been that here before in the past,'' Kiwanuka said. "Coughlin's always had a tight ship. It's been a strict organization in terms of dress code and punctuality and all that kind of stuff, and I think some of that kind of spills onto the field. We've done a lot of things to try to make sure everybody knows they can just play free and let it loose and have fun.''

Especially now that Coughlin is the one asking for it. Heck, he even said "Please!''

"Guys want to be poised and do their job, doing their job and their technique the right way, which is something that should be done that way,'' safety Antrel Rolle said of the apparent hesitance to make plays. "[But] it's the game of football. We know how to play this game. We have been playing this game since we were young. So go out there and play ball, man. There's no algebra involved.''

That can be a dangerous avenue, as the Giants have learned in the past. Having rogue players has weakened the defense and destroyed the offense. But this is different from willy-nilly chaos. It's about performing when an offensive play has exhausted its anticipated options. It's about not settling for a tackle but trying to strip the ball as well.

"You don't want to get into that every single play,'' Eli Manning said. "You don't try and do something that is not part of the play or the scheme. It's just a guy making an extra effort or a guy making an extra block. Someone doing something to create a big play.''

If they can do that, maybe they can not only play above the X's and O's but above the Colts and whomever else they face the rest of the season.

New York Sports