Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Week 1 v Cowboys

This was probably the most perfect week one win you could hope for. It's not that it was a thoroughly dominating win - it wasn't. It wasn't even a solid convincing victory, where your team can coast the last few minutes and be comfortable as the clock ticks down for victory. In fact, a play or two, a catch where the Cowboys could have advanced the ball 10 yards further or had 30 seconds more left on the clock and they easily could have won the game. Not only that, but when you play a game against a rookie QB making his first NFL start, you should beat him easily. Why then do I say that this was a perfect game one victory? First of all when you bring a new team together and they win big in their first game, there's a risk that they may get overconfident and think that it may come too easy. In fact if they even win comfortably, they may subconsciously feel that they can win just by showing up. A close win against a team they should have beaten perhaps a little more easily is perfect for the team psyche. They can be confident in the win, but realize there are still things to fix.

Much more important than the psyche factor however is the answers to the questions we had coming into the season. There were a few major questions coming into this first game and in fact coming into the season. First - would the OL improve over its pitiful preseason showing and its mediocre performance last year. As a corollary issue, would the TEs emerge from a season long malaise of blocking ineffectiveness. Second - would the S play improve with the two young bucks back there - a 2nd year player in Collins and a rookie in Darian Thompson. Third, would the new defensive FA additions along the DL and in the DB-field show themselves as worth the investment. More generally, how would the rookie class, particularly Shepperd and 1st rounder Eli Apple play. Fourth, would injury returnees Victor Cruz and JPP demonstrate that they might regain their form and be productive players once again. And finally and perhaps most important, how would coach McAdoo handle things in his first stint as HC at any level. 

Remarkably, every one of these questions was answered in the positive. The OL was far from dominating but was very effective in setting up the run and providing decent protection for the passing game. Even the TEs got into the action and did a decent job blocking. Tye had a real good, key block on one insie run by Jennngs and Donnell also did a decent job blocking, despite one late game play where he was totally dominated by the man he was supposed to block. This play almost cost NYG the game, but more on that later. In summary the blocking was OK.

The S play was just fabulous. Collins made plays in the running game last year but needed help in the passing game. THis year he seems sleeker and faster and has emerged as an excellent pass defender also. Berhe, who started the game at S and Thompson who came in and played the remainder of the game after the first 2 or 3 defensive series, was just great. He made several stops right at the line of scrimmage for no gain and was always in position to give help on deep passes. He looks like an excellent player. 

Third, Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison and Janoris Jenkins were superb. Jenkins brought his A game and did a great job on Dez Bryant. Vernon and Harrison were excellent at the line of scrimmage in both the passing game and the running game. Shepperd looks like a keeper and a rising star. Eli Apple got off to a slow start, but contributed to shutting down Cowboys offense in 2nd half. 

Victor Cruz made several key plays, one demonstrating that his athleticism had returned making a catch where he had to contort his body and land awkwardly on one foot bringing in a pass for a 20 yard gain setting up Shepperd's TD. Another key play was the winning TD where he demonstrated his experience and instincts by finding the open spot in the end zone. JPP was ll over the backfield in the 2nd half, once almost getting a strip sack of Prescott that would have ended the game and generally creating lots of pressure.

McAdoo made several very wise, considered coaching decisions that shows that even though he is still calling the offensive plays, he is able to manage the clock and make the strategic game management decisions. More on some of his good coaching in future posts. 

This was a perfect win --- we answered all the  questions facing the team coming into the season. NYG won but not by too much that they will get overconfident. And.... they beat Dallas!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Roster rundown

The roster as issued following cut down day on Saturday has some real interesting underlying principles and some might say some peculiar characteristics. First, while it's really unfortunate that Will Johnson got put on IR and the Giants do not have a legitimate complete TE on the roster --- Tye can catch and run after the catch but can't block at all; Donnell can catch, catch in traffic but can't run after the catch or block much; and Adams, the rookie can block but can't catch. I think long term, Adams will come along and may become the starter at TE, whether that happens this year or next year is entirely predicated on how much progress he makes. But, regardless of how the team got here, if it's 2nd and 5 and Giants want to run a power two-TE formation without completely giving away that it's a run by putting an extra OL-man out there, they really don't have a good option. This may be one reason why I think that one of the things to go by the boards from the Coughlin era is the 50-50 run-pass balance that TC always preached. I think we will be passing more than running this year.

The roster seems unbalanced - how does the team go into the season with 8 LBs and only 8 OL-men and the aforementioned 3 TEs/FBs. Typically on game day, the team may dress only 8 OL-men, but there are generally 9 or sometimes even 10 on the final 53 roster. You definitely need more TE/FBs and OL-men. I will not be surprised if one of these LBs get cut when/if a decent OL-man or TE becomes available. (NOTE: while writing this post, I just noticed that Giants cut Brinkley and signed Josh Johnson as QB. This is not done - Giants will cut one of these backup QBs and strengthen the roster elsewhere.) 

The other interesting thing about the roster is that there are no "made-men" (mafia reference) on the roster anymore. It used to be that if you were a recent draft choice or were a favorite of the organization, e.g. BC or ND alum, you had special status and would stay on the team at least a couple of years. Not this year. Andre Williams, Geremy Davis and Cooper Taylor all fit this category and were all cut. Andre Williams had an opportunity to win a job and just didn't show enough improvement. They must really not have liked what he showed, because he got beaten out both by Darkwa and Rainey. I speculated in my last post that Darkwa would beat out Williams if the Giants carried 4 RBs; and I flat out assumed that Rainey would also be gone. The fact that they are carrying five RBs and STILL could not find a place for Williams shows how much he has fallen.

At WR, Geremy Davis didn't lose the job like Williams did as much as Lewis and King just took it away. They both played really well, showed talent and just simply beat him out for a job. Frankly, King right now looks like he might be in better shape and more productive than Cruz. Of course Cruz has the history and pedigree, so Giants will get him on the field, but don't be surprised if King gets into the mix, especially if Giants go to 4 WR sets.

McAdoo said that he wants to put the "best 53" on the roster. I think he was true to that philosophy and he took the best 53 even if it resulted in some imbalance in certain units on the roster. 

Giants just HAVE to find a competent OL-man to add to this group. Now that they have cut one LB, perhaps the loser in the backup QB competition is the one to go. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Final preseason game: roster spots - offense

The offensive performance was less than inspiring last night. We have to hope the defense will carry the team until the new coach can fix the OL problems. Because if the OL gets fixed, there are plenty of weapons on this team to be productive. I have to say that I just don't love Nassib. He has not thrown the ball accurately this preseason and he missed a bunch of deep throws last night. He also missed some reads - King was wide open in the middle of the field on one scramble and he didn't see him.

At RB, it's a very close call as to who makes the roster. The RBs did a little better last night, but nobody really shined. Jennings, Vereen and Perkins are surely on the team. Rainey, Williams and Darkwa are fighting for the remaining spots and it is unclear whether the Giants will carry 4 or 5 RBs. The Giants OL and run blocking on the outside behind poor blocking TEs is questionable, so Giants might do a lot of their running up the middle, between the tackles, just as they did last year. If that's the case, Rainey's speed might be redundant and his skill set is similar to Vereen's and Perkins. If they keep only 4 RBs, and it comes down to Darkwa and Williams, I just have a feeling that they will keep Darkwa who is a little more versatile than Williams. However, it should be stated that Williams is ahead on the unofficial depth chart on the Giants website.

The decision on how many RBs they keep could well depend on how many WRs the Giants keep. Typically, they would keep 6, but dress only 5 on game day. The first 4 WRs, OBJ, Cruz, Sheppard and Harris are set. After that, it comes down to keeping 2 players from among Geremy Davis, Tavares King and Roger Lewis. You might think that Davis has an edge since he was a draft choice and Giants don't like to waste their picks.  However, King clearly is the most NFL ready of the three right now, while Lewis might have the biggest upside of the three down the road. King has been kicking around the league for a few years on a few different teams, which is probably what makes him more ready; but it also might give you the feeling that what you see from him now is all you're ever going to get out of him. Lewis, an undrafted FA and Davis who hardly played last year carry the hope of promise and optimism, which might be in their favor. If it was me - I would keep King and Lewis and cut Davis. Other WRs, Powe and Dable might make the practice squad.

On the OL, Jones, the CFL import did not look very good at C last night. He's pretty athletic, but he's just not big enough. Flowers was uneven in his performance as was Bobby Hart. Hart looked good at times and was playing LT in the 2nd half, but I saw him get beaten badly on a pass rush. The other backups - Cleary and Gettis look pretty average at best.

At TE, this is now a position I am worried about. Tye and Donnell were both a little better blocking last night and Donnell did make one really good catch. But Jerrel Adams looked totally lost in the passing game. When he knows exactly what to do, he does fine. But when he has to feel his way, read the soft spots in the zone or improvise a little bit, he seems uncomfortable. His blocking was fine, but not outstanding or particularly noticeable. If Giants keep 4 TEs and we include Will Johnson in that group, the Giants may actually look over the cuts from other training camps and sign one of them to replace Will Tye.

When the coaches cut a guy and say it is a numbers game, I know what they mean, the analysis above informs as to why every decision is related to other decisions within other units. If you really like this WR group and want to keep an extra one because you want to develop him for the future, it means that you have to keep one fewer player at another position group. It can have  a cascading affect on other units on the entire roster.

Final preseason game: roster spots - defense

Thoughts from the final preseason game and roster spots on defense:

Giants defense has a chance to be really good this year. They went without many starters on defense last night, in particular, the entire DL did not play and they still did well against Patriots first team offense. The CBs look capable and deep. Trevin Wade, our 4th or 5th CB made several plays last night including INT of Brady. Landon Collins looks like a totally different player than last year - still aggressive, attacking in the box, but with enough speed and coverage skills to make plays in the passing game as well. His partner at S last night was Berhe who also looked very good - fast, hard hitter and always in good position. Eli Apple looks absolutely great and has looked good the entire preseason.

There is a numbers game to be played in the DB-field and it is pretty confusing. If Giants want to carry 5 CBs and 4 at the S position, then it will be: Rodgers-Cromartie, Jenkins, Apple, Hall and Wade at CB. Wade played great last night and merits a spot on the roster. At S it would be: Collins, Thomson, Berhe and probably Mykelle Thompson. Currie and Adams, two other contenders at S just don't look athletic enough to me to play in the NFL. Deayon at CB is a feel-good story, tries hard but is just way too small to be effective at CB in the league. The Giants may like McFadden and want to keep him on the roster and may talk themselves into doing this and cutting Mykelle Thompson at S because Hall can play S. I would keep Thompson because I don't think Hall has looked good this camp - he looks slow and does not show a lot of fire.

At LB, for the first time in a while, Giants have some players. I am not sure how many LBs Giants will keep on the roster, but if it comes down to a battle between Herzlich and J T Thomas, it's going to be a really tough one. Off of the game last night, Herzlich looks much better and more game ready right now. But if you're combining performance in this camp with what you have seen from each player in the past, you might go with Thomas.He is faster and has more pedigree at LB on the defense, though perhaps not on ST. Herzlich actually looked a little trimmer and faster than I remember him being in the past  and is a pretty good ST player, so Herzlich might get the nod.

Overall on defense, I have to say that this is the best Giants tackling team I've seen in a while. I know it's only preseason, but their tackling is very sure - I hardly have seen a missed tackle. It could be because they have better athletes on the defense, but it also could be a corollary outcome of the new strength and conditioning program. It's not just there for reduced injuries, but better core strength, balance and flexibility means defenders in better position and becoming better tacklers. Let's hope it carries over to the regular season and it's not just a mirage.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

More roster follow ups

Yesterday's blog post, where I took a shot at Donnell and said I did not like him as TE is moot ---- both LaCosse and now Maleck have been waived because of injury and even the other TE option TE/FB Will Johnson has been on the shelf because of an injury - a stinger. The other player who theoretically could have served as a functional blocking TE, Nikita Whitlock, last year's FB, was waived with an injury. So a position, TE/FB that a week ago looked like it was crowded and filled with competition now is sparsely populated and Donnell will definitely make the team. But both he and in particular Tye have been called out by the coaching staff because of poor blocking, so I think Will Johnson, when healthy will play a lot. And the point of this post is to say that I would promote Jerell Adams on the depth chart and give him a a lot of snaps, even ahead of Donnell. Adams came out of college as somewhat raw, with a reputation as  a good blocking TE but questionable in the passing game. He looks like he is progressing in the passing game and that is a more natural part of everyone's game  who has ever played football, so I expect it to improve. He is playing great on ST so there is little doubt he will make the team now, but I would elevate him and see what he's got; see if he can be developed sooner rather than sitting on the bench as a long term project.

Will Beatty was resigned to prop up the OL. This makes a great deal of sense - he was never a stud LT, but he was capable; a solid NFL caliber OT. I presume that they will leave Flowers at LT and let Beatty supplant Newhouse at RT. While Beatty may not be a star, he still represents a significant upgrade to the OL. It's ironic - I had just been discussing with all my Giants buddies that the Giants in the off-season upgraded, in some cases significantly upgraded EVERY unit on the team (except for QB). We have two new DL-men in Vernon and Harrison. Really we have 4 if you count JPP and OO's emergence from the injury hell of last year. We added two LBs - Shepard and Goodson and got Casillas back to good health. Giants added 2 CBs and a safety. They added a WR (Sheppard) and RB (Perkins) in the draft. We even added a pair in the TE/FB position by drafting Adams and signing Johnson. It sure seems to me like the only unit we did not upgrade was the OL and, while the OL wasn't horrible last year, it certainly was not a unit of strength. It was one of the units that we all felt was in need of improvement. We've read all the stories from the draft room that Giants were intending to draft a T, but got outmaneuvered, ending up with Eli Apple. I think this will end up being a blessing in disguise because I think Apple will be  a stud. Nevertheless, Giants needed to upgrade the OL. With this Beatty signing, they did.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Roster moves

If this were my team, Larry Donnell would be a roster cut. He is just not good enough - he can't block at all and the poor TE work in the blocking department is one reason the OL looks worse and the running game looks worse than it should be. Donnell is a completely one dimensional player and even as a pass catcher he is somewhat limited. He is a big target, convenient for the red zone, and occasionally able to catch those seam routes. But he fumbles too often, drops too many balls, runs too upright and therefore gets attacked at his knees. He is constantly looking to protect himself from those chop-at-the-ankles-and-knees tackles and so he goes down way too easily. I haven't looked at the stats, but just viscerally, his YAC yards have to be close to 0. The only thing keeping him on the roster is that LaCosse is always injured, in fact he was waived injured today. Ryan Malleck is just not talented enough to nudge Donnell off the roster, but he is just not a quality NFL TE. If he were in his first year, we would be salivating about his upside and would be hopeful that his blocking would immprove. But let's face it - he's not a rookie, he's been in the league 4 years, if you count his year on the practice squad. If his blocking hasn't improved up until now, it probably just ain't gonna' get any better. I would promote Jerell Adams above Donnell on the depth chart. Adams was a blocking TE in college, so maybe he can do a better job than Donnell and so far, from the little I have seen of him on film from games and practice, he is flexible, quick, a decent route runner and has good hands. He's got a learning curve, to be sure, but I have given up on investing time in Donnell.

Maybe some team out there needs a TE, remembers the 3 TD performance by Donnell against the Redskins or maybe the game winning TD catch against the 49ers last year and gives us a reserve OL-man or a 3rd od 4th round draft choice in a trade.

By the way - speaking of a leopard not changing his spots - did you see that Reuben Randle was cut by the Eagles. Randle (or RFR as I call him) is one of my most unfavorite Giants players ever. OK, maybe Dave Brown is ahead of him on the list, but RFR is pretty darned close.

The other roster spot with lots of competition is WR. Tavarres King looked real good in practice and right behind him is Roger Lewis. Myles White got cut today, so it looks to me like the WR corps will be: OBJ, Sheppard, Cruz, Harris and these two neophytes: King and Lewis. Two others will probably make the practice squad: Powe and Dable.

Next question is what happens at RB. It's really hard to judge the RBs with this awful OL play. Jennings, Vereen and rookie Perkins are locks to make the team. After that, it depends if Giants carry 4 or 5 RBs. If they carry only 1 more RB and it comes down to Rainey, Darkwa and Williams, I think they may keep Darkwa and cut the otehr two. Pretty close call, though.


Third preseason game review

A couple of years ago,  at the end of the season, John Mara famously complained to Gilbride Sr and Coach Coughlin "the offense is broken, fix it". He was rightly worried about all the INTs, lack of creativity and the great complexity and indecision in the routes that the WR were running and the many midroute adjustments they had to make. This meant that the QB and WR were often not on the same page. So, we fired Gilbride, hired McAdoo as new OC and the offense greatly improved in the succeeding two years. We have a Super Bowl caliber QB, lots of talent at the skill positions, but now, however, we seem to have another problem and that is that the OL and the TEs can't block anyone. Every play was completely exploded by the Jets DL; every running play the RB was clobbered as soon as he took the handoff from Eli; and there was never a clean comfortable pocket for Eli on passing plays.

Everyone in football talks about how important the work in the trenches is and it's true. But comparatively, the OL is even more important than the DL ---- here's why: if you have a weak DL, you can still field a somewhat representative defense and cover up weakness in the DL. You would need great LBs and/or a strong secondary and some creative coaching, but you can somehow compensate for it. The defense may not be great without a good DL, but you can field a defense that is somewhat functional. But on offense, there is just no getting around a terrible OL. No matter how good your QB or other skill position players are, they can't compensate for a terrible OL. A bad OL just ruins the offense.

It's only preseason and the Jets do have a very formidable DL, Buffalo plays multiple looks and blitzes up front a lot, so perhaps we shouldn't overreact. On the other hand---- if the OL had played poorly but at least showed something, we could grasp at some straws of optimism or at least hope. But this week, the OL was just completely dominated on every play and there is definitely cause for concern, if not total panic.

On the other side of the ball, however, I think the defense has a chance to be very good. The DL has strength and depth. The starters look great - two excellent DTs in Harrison and Hankins; two excellent DEs in Vernon and JPP. Some depth off the bench in Bromley and Odigizuwa, and even a young "comer" in Okwara who looks great. Towards the end of the game Okwara was abusing the Jets OL, looking like LT in his prime. Granted he was going against 2nd and 3rd string players --- but he just looks like a player. The LBs all of a sudden look like a formidable group with Casillas really standing out (hope the rib injury sin't too bad) and competnet depth behind all the LBs. I am really enthused about ELi Apple, he looks great. Right now, I think he s a better CB than expensive FA Janoris Jenkins. Collins looks better than last year, actually making some plays in the passing game.

The defense has a chance to be really good, but no team can be a playoff team or a serious contender without good OL play and right now, we're not showing it.