Thursday, October 30, 2008

Plaxico drinks the Coughlin Kool-Aid

Well, it's not exactly complete contrition or a guilt ridden mea culpa asking forgiveness from his coach and teammates issued by Plaxico, but he did at least 'fess up a little bit. I'll quote: "Everybody can be better, you can make better choices just kind of think things over". Later he added: "I'm human. I've made some mistakes, I haven't made the best of decisions. I'm the first one to look myself in the mirror and be honest with myself"

Some could scoff at it and say that it was a canned, insincere statement encouraged by his agent. Others could bemoan the fact that he didn't sufficiently belittle or deprecate himself, didn't grovel enough and didn't throw himself on the mercy of the court. I disagree. I think it was a huge step for Plaxico and if he more or less toes the line and actually shows up to meetings, practices and rehab sessions more or less on time for the rest of the year, this will cease to be an issue.

Let's get some balance and perspective here - Plaxico did not violate any egregious personal codes of conduct. He's not shooting people in a Vegas strip joint like the CB formerly known as Pacman Jones. He's not getting drunk and fighting with his bodyguard like that same old aforementioned Pacman dude. He's not assaulting or spitting at women like KC RB Larry Johnson. He's not violating the law and getting suspended like half the Bengals roster. He's not getting suspended by the league because of brawling in the streets outside of a strip club in Miami like Vikings Bryant McKinnie. And he's not being suspended for doing drugs, steroids or other performance enhancing stuff. And - he's not calling out his coach or fighting with teammates like Steve Smith did in Carolina.

I'm not saying what Plaxico did is good. He's got to come to practice, show up for rehab etc. I'm just saying that the punishment should fit the crime. What he did was not so egregious and he recognized that he did the wrong thing by his statement. Having done so is sufficient for his teammates and (I hope) the coaches. Giants are a good team without him, but he is the only unstoppable force on this offense. We need him to make the Giants reach the heights.

If Coughlin wanted to make things really right, he should take a conciliatory step also. He should talk to Plaxico personally and he should issue a public statement something to the effect of: "I spoke with Plaxico personally and what we discussed will remain between the player and the coach. I just want to stress the fact that even though we had these minor disagreements about team rules, they are largely internal team matters. Plaxico is a fine young man, who is dedicated to his craft, works hard and is a respected and loved teammate. We are moving forward and hope we can put this behind us"

I think I'm quitting my job and going into public relations.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A look ahead to the Cowboys

Romo out. Felix Jones out. Jason Witten with broken ribs and, if not out, probably somewhat limited.

On defense the Cowboys (highly overrated) defensive backfield has their 3 top CBs out.

Seems like we should have an advantage but somehow I'm nervous. Even though Romo is out, the Cowboys have the best skill position players in the NFL. The only pair of WRs that can compare to Cardinals Boldin and Fitzgerald are the Cowboys TO and Roy Williams. I know Brad Johnson is almost as old as I am, but at one time he was a very capable, accurate thrower. Maybe he needed a few games to get the cobwebs out and to oil up his rusty hinge/throwing arm, and he breaks out of it this week. Even with Brad Johnson at qb, you cannot underestimate the Cowboys offense. But you can assume that our defense, which is playing at a fairly high level will hold the Cowboys from exploding with tons of points. Cowboys weakness on offense this year, even when Romo was in there, seems to have been their OL. There is nothing that matches up better with our defense than a somewhat leaky OL. So I think we can assume that even if Johnson plays well, Cowboys won't put up a ton of points. My game plan if I were Cowboys would be to be fairly conservative on offense, try to shorten the game by getting Marion Barber running and hope he has a big game.

My question is - what should the Giants offensive game plan be? Should we assume that our defense will shut down Cowboys offense and the only way we could lose the game is if we make some mistakes and turnovers. That would argue for a fairly conservative game plan. Don't take too many chances, assume Cowboys will not score more than 14-17 points and we can play it safe assuming that even if we play conservatively we will score enough points to win.

Or - we could go for the throat, look at the Cowboys secondary, realize that it is the weak part of the defense when they are healthy and now that they are not, they are even more of a vulnerability. Frankly, I would go for the jugular and try to play aggressively. I have confidence in Eli that he will not make a lot of mistakes and he will be smart with the ball.

If I were the Cowboys, my defensive game plan would be to blitz and gamble all day long. With a beat up DB-field, if you play it straight and conservative, the only way to win is to take some chances. That's especially true when your offense is less likely to bail you out by scoring lots of points. So even though Giants should be appropriately aggressive, they have to watch out for an aggressive, attacking, blitzing game plan from the Cowboys.

That old Wade Phillips, he's a crafty defensive coach. You got to watch out for that guy.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Steelers post mortem V - refereeing

What the heck is happening to the refing in the NFL? I admit I am looking at this through a Giants fan's subjective eye, but there were several calls that were ridiculous.

The holding call that they made against Boss nullifying a good Giants run was ridiculous. It was an obvious flop by the defender, but it should have been easy to see that there was no hold.

The lack of holding calls by Steeler DBs against Giants WRs was also ridiculous. Plaxico was open for a TD and was blatantly held. It's a lot easier to play an aggressive, challenging defense giving the WR no cushion if when you get beat, you can hold.

The late hit call against Kenny Phillips was just stupid.

On the 3o yd TD run by Moore in first half, there was a hold by the Steeler TE Heath Miller against Tuck right at the point of attack. You couldn't see the hold on the original TV angle, but on the replay it was as clear as could be. In fact, it was a good tackle by TE Miller.

On the 4th and 1 run by Jacobs, I think he made it over the goal line, but I can't blame the refs much for that, because it was hard to see the ball position. The overhead camera seemed to show he was in. Like I said - can't complain on that one because it was a close call.

Interesting digression - the replay challenge system was established to correct blatant errors by officials, especially on scoring plays. The original bad call was Vinny Testaverde scoring a phantom TD on a play in which he never actually crossed the goal line and this was apparent from a camera angle not available to the refs on the field. Consider the 3rd down play originally called a TD that was reversed on Jacobs. It was only in slow motion, almost frame-by-frame analysis that you can see that the ball was on the one inch line when his elbow hit the ground. On my DVR, I advanced it frame by frame and it was exactly 3 frames between the time his elbow hit and the ball crossed the goal line. For those of you who are not tech-geeks like me, the rate that frames are broadcast for display on TV is 20 frames-per-second. This means that the time delay was 3/20 of a second. Hardly what you would call blatant, although it was certainly the correct call.

Parenthetically, after that reversal the ball was placed on the 1/2 yard line and I'm not clear why it was not placed on the 1 inch line.

Steelers post mortem IV - the defense

Before the 49ers game, Coughlin was whining that the defense had not forced many turnovers this year. Well, I guess that is no longer a concern. 3 turnovers against 49ers and 4 against Steelers and the defense is a regular turnover machine. I am guessing that will stop this week against Cowboys - not because Cowboys offense is so proficient, but because they will probably pull in the oars and play a very conservative game. Look for Marion Barber to carry the ball 25 times or more.

Of these 7 turnovers that Giants defense has made these past two weeks, 5 have been forced by the safeties: 2 INTs by Johnson against 49ers; against Steelers an INT by Butler, a hit by Butler to force the INT that Kehl made and the closing INT by Phillips.

I hope Gerris Wilkinson doesn't have a long term rental on the housing he is using while playing for the Giants, because based on what I've seen from Kehl, Wilkinson may be looking for a new team soon. Kehl hits really well, is fast and is smart. The INT he made was a Derek Jeter type of play. He had no reason to be in that exact spot, because his zone area of coverage was further to the left (his left). He read Ben's eyes, saw where he was going with the ball and drifted over to the middle of the field, took a slightly deeper drop and was in perfect position to catch the ball when Butler separated the WR from it. I say it was Jeter-type-play, because it was mostly an instinct play and not pure coaching. He also showed great hands by catching the ball. It was not popped up in the air, it fell straight down to the ground and he showed real good hands snatching it before it hit the ground.

Kiwanuka is starting to come on. Maybe his ankle is healed. Can you imagine how dangerous the defense would be if Osi were not lost for the season?

Kenny Phillips is going to be a big time player.

Best quote of the week was by Antonio Pierce: "We should just fast forward the game to the last 5 minutes and turn it over to Eli then"

I honestly think there are a few reasons why Giants are so good in 4th qtr:
1. Giants have great depth and actually use it throughout the game so players are fresh in 4th qtr.
2. Giants made a move a few years ago to rid themselves of many of the older, frequently injured players and so have younger, more athletically fit players that tend to be less tired than older players at the end of the game. Remember that the Giants cut Arrington, Pettigout, Demps, Whittfield, Emmons and a few other guys I can't remember.
3. Giants have a very good trainer and physical fitness program and guys are really fit. Have you ever seen 3 DEs as fit as Tuck, Kiwanuka and Osi? They could all be playing LB somewhere. Even the Giants DTs, Cofield and Robbins are trim and fit, where on other teams, these are the players that usually have their gut hanging over their belt and are nicknamed after some home appliance or other.
4. Our coaches are really good and by the time the 4th qtr rolls around, they are able to make the subtle adjustments they need in the game plan to make things work.
5. Eli's cool and refusal to get flustered in tight situations has cascaded down and permeates the attitude of the entire team.

Steelers post mortem III - Eli and Big Ben

Eli is so far superior to Big Ben that anyone who says that they prefer Ben, I immediately dismiss as someone who has no knowledge of football.

Ben had the luxury of coming up with the best team in football and had two great seasons, winning 13 games in a row in his rookie year and winning a superbowl in his second year. But, Steelers were great then and were very well coached. He also was playing behind the best OL in football. He had the worst game in the Superbowl of any qb this side of Kerry Collins in 2000, but because he has that ring on his finger, he is deemed to be great. I am not saying he is a bad player, I am just saying that as a pure passer he is not nearly as talented as Eli. And when it comes to game management and the smarts of leading a team, there is absolutely no comparison. While Rothelisberger broke in with a team that was already on its way to greatness, Eli came up with a terrible Giants team (4-12 season before the 2004 draft), he had Luke freaking Pettigout defending his blind side and, frankly took a while to grow into the job. The Giants system asks the qb to do a lot in terms of game management, changing blocking assignments, making difficult throws and reading defenses. The Steelers system puts very limited load on the qb and asks him to do only what he can do. This is not something I divined myself from studying film of the Steelers and interviewing their assistant coaches. It is something I heard Cowher say directly in a segment on Inside the NFL. The way they won a Superbowl with 2nd year qb was, in Cowher's words, "we didn't ask him to do too much. We ran the ball 60% of the time (by far most in the league) and he threw a lot of play action off of that. We put him in good situations."

Those in the Rothelisberger camp will say that the reason he had a bad game against the Giants this past Sunday was because the Giants pass rush got after him and no qb can play well under that kind of pressure. Unfortunately, that's analyzing a game by looking at the stat sheet. The fact is that the Steelers OL was not that bad. A lot of the Giants sacks were coverage sacks and came because Ben didn't pull the trigger on passes quickly enough. Obviously a team with a bad OL will give up lots of sacks, and a team with a great OL will give up few, but some qb's have the ability to make their OL look a little better or a little worse than they actually are by how they themselves play and behave in the pocket. Dan Marino comes to mind - he was sacked less frequently than other qb's, not because his OL was always great and certainly not because he was a mobile guy that evaded the rush. Rather, it was because he had great pocket awareness and had a lightning quick release to unload the ball before he got hit. I have said many times on this blog that Eli has developed a wonderful pocket awareness and moves around just enough, and gets rid of the ball quickly, sometimes off his back foot, to make his OL look better than it really is in their pass blocking assignments. The OL is a great run blocking group and very good, but not great in pass blocking. Eli with his subtle moves makes the OL pass blocking look better than it actually is. Rothelisberger is exactly the opposite as he often holds onto the ball way too long. Maybe it's because when he came up his OL was so good and he could afford to hold onto it, so he's used to that style of play. Maybe it's because he's so big and athletic, and he likes scrambling out of the pocket, running himself or even taking the hit and making the play down field. I'm not sure. But I am sure that he does not help his OL out because he tends to hold the ball too long. Giants pass rush was very disciplined yesterday and kept Ben pinned in the pocket so he couldn't escape and run. But some of the sacks were Ben's fault, not the OL.

By contrast, let's take a look at Eli and how he handled himself on the key play in the game. 4th qtr, 4th and 1 on Steelers 36. Giants down 14-9 call a time out and decide to go for it. Eli gets to the line of scrimmage, looks befuddled and takes a delay of game penalty to make it a 4th and 6. Crowd is going nuts. Aikman says - that was inexcusable. How could Eli let that happen. Deer in the headlights, bad Eli, blah, blah, blah. Well it turns out that not only was Eli not befuddled, rather, quite the contrary, he was completely in control and as cool as a cucumber. Eli explained in his post game press conference that when he got to the line of scrimmage after the time out, he saw that the Steelers were in a defense that would have completely disrupted the play that the Giants had called. Eli thought about going to an audible and changing the play, but he was afraid that with all the noise in the stadium, someone on the offense might have missed the audible and the play would not have worked. Eli coolly and correctly judged that it would have been better to take a 5 yard penalty and go for it on 4th and 6 with a play that might work at that critical juncture of the game. That's the qb that I want running my team and managing my game in the 4th qtr.

Of course it gets better. Eli and Gilbride have the guts to call the long pass play and Eli throws a perfect pass to Toomer who was behind the defense by a step. Let me emphasize - this was not a good pass; it was dead on perfect. It couldn't have been more perfect if Eli had walked down there and placed it in Toomer's hands. Toomer was about a step behind the CB and the safety was closing hard from the middle of the field. Anything less than a perfect throw and the pass falls incomplete and the Giants lose the game. That's the qb I want throwing for me in the 4th qtr of a game.

Rothelisberger has a strong arm, maybe even a tad stronger than Eli's. But he throws only two kinds of passes - a long arcing pass with plenty of air under it thrown deep down the field and a hard straight pass thrown with great velocity. He throws these well and accurately. The pass he cannot throw is the touch pass - a 20-30 yard pass that has to go over the head of a trailing defender, or over a row of linebackers that have dropped into zone coverage, and drop into the hands of the receiver, in front of the safety who may be closing from behind and giving deep help. Ben simply cannot throw this pass and Eli throws this ball perfectly.

Time will tell if I am right, but I would not trade Eli for any qb in football.

Steelers post mortem II

Some good stats from the Steelers game:

Ben R dropped back to throw 34 times, was sacked 5 times, and was hit and knocked down 16 other times. He was smacked around on more than half his pass attempts. That gets to you after a while. By contrast Eli was not sacked during the game.

Fourth quarter passing stats:
Ben: 2 for 10, 16 yards, 0 TD, 2 INTs
Eli: 6-10, 86 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT

Another few great stats that might indicate Giants defensive strength:
In last 18:58 of the game, Steelers total offensive yardage was -36. (As in "minus" 36)

Steelers had no snaps inside the red zone.

Steelers post mortem I

Well I guess we're pretty good. In fact we're very good. What I like about this team is the grit and character that they play with. Steelers and their fans are already complaining that they were unlucky and they lost the game only because of that bad snap that gave Giants two points and allowed us to tie the game. That was the momentum turner and it gave the Giants great field position that they could utilize to drive for the winning TD, or so say the Steeler supporters. I claim that if that had happened to the Giants, they would have recovered and survived. I'm not saying they surely would've won, but would not have crumbled like the Steelers apparently did. Here's my proof: I can think of no greater momentum changer and emotion charger than a rousing goal line stand. I remember the 1990 Giants-Bears playoff game. Bears had 4th and goal on Giants 1 and Ditka decided to go for it. Giants (John Washington) stopped the Bears FB, Bears never recovered and Giants crushed them 31-3. That goal line stop was the game changer.

What happened in this game? Steelers made amazing goal line stand, stopping Jacobs on two consecutive plays, with a little help from the replay, in the first half. That should have given the Steelers enough momentum to win the game. Not only did they not win, but Giants were ahead by half time. Giants have lots of grit and character.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

49ers post mortem

Some good news and some other signs that are not so good from this 49ers game. Of course what the team apologists will say is that a win is a win. And they will say that style points don't matter in the NFL and that it's hard enough to win in the NFL, and if you don't play your best football but still tough out a win, blah, blah, blah, yada, yada, yada.

On this blog we prefer to analyze with a critical eye. (Critical does not always mean negative - critics can give rave reviews also.)

So here goes my glass half full/half empty analysis:

Defense was giving up yards in the passing game and some big plays in the first half of the 49ers game. Ross got toasted for a long TD in that half but was good on most of his other stuff. Chase Blackburn played well in the running game but also got lost in coverage once or twice - not a big surprise because he's still feeling his way. That's the bad news. The good news is that the defense was outstanding against the run all day and the pass defense and the pass rush was very strong in the 2nd half. Giants had a lot of pressure and a bunch of sacks. 49ers got no offensive points in 2nd half.

I have been complaining for a while about Tuck being moved inside to DT on every single passing play and being replaced with Tollefson (or McDougle) at DE. I don't mind this for an occasional change and I loved it last year when Osi and Strahan were pass rushing from the outside and it allowed Giants D to get its best pass rushers in the game. But in general, it's easier to double team an inside DT than an outside DE because the interior of the line is more congested. I understand that the OGs are usually not as good at pass blocking than the OTs and it can create some mismatches for Tuck. But in general, I think your best pass rusher should more often be coming from the outside. If you get pressure up the middle, in the qb's face, it is very effective, but harder to generate. I like Cofield and Robbins coming up the middle. The other reason I don't like sticking Tuck in the middle on EVERY passing down is that it keeps Jay Alford on the bench and I think he's a very good inside pass rusher. (You may remember his sack in the Superbowl.) More important - anything you do predictably can be stopped. I guess Spags was thinking along with me, because Tuck was at DE most of 2nd half and generated lots of pressure. There are just more lanes to rush in from that spot and he can use all his physical tools.

Ross is going through some young-player growing pains. I think he'll be fine. But I would not be surprised to see Sam Madison get some playing time in the next few weeks so that Ross doesn't cost Giants some games and doesn't have his confidence shattered. We saw that confidence is so important to young CB in the uneven growth of Corey Webster. He was very up and down early in his career and was on the bench most of last year until shortly before the playoffs. Now he is playing at a very high level. I can't say that he is pro-bowl caliber, but he's got to be pretty close. His confidence took a lot of rebuilding from early failures. The Spagnuolo coaching regime really helped him. I may have mentioned that I think the two best position coaches on defense are Giunta, who is the DB coach and Waufle, the DL coach.

Now on the offensive side: I think Gilbride is a decent OC, but I think he's a little bit of a plodder and not the most creative and dynamic OC in the league. On the one hand - Giants have a very balanced offense. They have a good OL, strong power running game, have balanced passing attack where they are able to go deep and are able to exploit the middle of the field as well as the sidelines. The pass-run mixture is usually good also. No big complaints there.

But - it just seems that Giants are too predictable on offense. When you watch other teams with good offenses, there are at least several plays each week in the passing game, where they have a WR running wide open for a medium depth or long play that is an easy throw and catch for the QB. Giants don't seem to have many of those. I think Giants pass routes and route combinations are too easy to read and predictable and so other teams know where to go to defend them. Maybe I'm over reacting because 49ers have very good CBs, but I don't think so. We'll see when Giants play Pitt this week.

I can say the same thing in the running game. Everyone knows that Giants favorite play is that off tackle run, where one or both of the G's pull, the T and TE get a seal on the DE and the FB and the pulling G's lead downfield. It works well because Giants have very athletic G's and they can get out in space and block. Sunday against 49ers, Giants were less effective with these running plays because the 49ers CBs (not the S) were run blitzing a lot and they guessed right on every run. Not once did the Giants catch them in a run blitz and throw the ball to the uncovered WR that had been the blitzing CB's responsibility. To me, that says this was not a defensive call in the 49ers huddle or even a pre-snap read by the defense. Rather, I think the Giants are tipping their plays by their formation, personnel grouping or the down and distance and the CB's were coming hard and taking away those plays. That's being predictable.

It took Gilbride an entire year to put in a counter running play, which is a perfect play for Giants. Because Giants have such a good power running game, defenses have to load up and really swarm to the ball in order to get a stop. A change of direction on the counter gives Giants great balance against those defenses. Every time they've run that counter it seems to go for a big gain, but it is not used often enough. If it was used more frequently, teams would have to prepare for it and it would make the base power runs more effective.

One more big complaint about predictability of the offense is in the passing game. Hixon looks like a star in the making. Can someone explain to me why he gets on the field only in 4 WR sets? Is there a law that Toomer has to be on the field on every play? A WR set with Plaxico, Hixon and Smith would be very difficult for teams to defend. If you really want to scare them, get Sinorice Moss on the field also. I know Toomer has great experience, and he can make some plays. But - he is not fast anymore and he drops too many passes. I am not saying Giants should bench Toomer, just get Hixon in the game more. Giants are a little too predictable.

Steve Smith has very good quickness and is very good finding the spaces in the short and medium zones. Maybe if he ran a deep pattern once every few games, it would catch the defense off guard. Too Predictable.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Browns review


Not finished reviewing the video of the game and I'm not sure I have the stomach to do so. Everyone is going to put this one on Eli and he did not play well. But the defense got hammered in this game. Giants did not get a turnover or force a punt the entire game. They gave up big plays, gave up yardage on the ground and in general were handled all night long. On top of that, you add in a few big mistakes by the qb and you get a disaster.

Two ways to look at this:

(1) Giants were riding a wave and are not nearly as good as we think they are.
(2) This game was Cleveland's season. If they had lost and gone to 1-4, their season would have been just about over, but at 2-3 they have a prayer. So, getting the world champs on the Monday night national stage, coming off a bye where they could pull out all the stops and prepare like crazy for the Giants, perhaps they played over their heads.

The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

Bottom line: Giants have to shore up their defense and play a good game against the 49ers.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Romo broken finger

Tony Romo is out for 4 weeks with broken finger suffered in last offensive series of the game Sunday against the Cardinals. Dallas Morning News is reporting that he will be out 4 weeks, which means he will miss their games @ Rams, home against the Buccaneers and @ Giants. The following week is a bye, so presumably he will miss only 3 games and return after the bye when they play at Washington.

Dallas backup QB is Brad Johnson, who has one Superbowl ring but is now 40 years olld.

Gonzalez Rumors

There is a rumor going around that Tony Gonzalez of the KC Chiefs has asked to be traded to a contender and the Chiefs are trying to accommodate him. Further rumor is that the Giants are pursuing most aggressively.

Check out the story above from Kansas City Star.

Gonzalez is 32 years old and is near the end of his career. but if he has 2 or 3 good years left, realtively low salary cap numbers and Giants can get him for no more than a 3rd or 4th round draft choice, this is almost a no-brainer.

Week 6 review before MNF

A good week for the Giants. In fact a great week for the Giants. The two division rivals that were closest to the Giants in standings, tied for 2nd place at 4-1 coming into the weekend, both lost and are now 4-2. If Giants beat the Browns Monday night, they should be in pretty good shape. The tough part of their schedule is definitely coming up starting with the Steelers in week 8 so it is way too early to claim vitory, but they are definitely sitting pretty.

The reputation of the NFC East definitely took a hit this weekend. There were three games that matched up NFC E teams agaisnt NFC W teams and the NFC W won two out of the three. Cardinals beat the Cowboys, previously winless Rams beat the Redskins, and in the lone NFC E victory, the Eagles beat the 49ers in a game closer than the score indicated.

A few words about the Cowboys: I don't know how to explain this, but how is it possible that a qb throws for 320 yards, completes 2/3 of his passes, has 3 TDs and 0 INTs but still looks very ordinary? Well it happened yesterday. Romo completed 11 passes to Marion Barber on little dinks that evey college qb playing today could make. Barber broke one of them for a 70 yard TD inflating Romo's numbers. He hit one short ball to Crayton that he also broke for a long TD. The rest of the time, he looked like he was not handling the pressure well and just didn't look like he was doing anything special to move his club. Maybe I'm being too critical, but I think he is the most overrated player in football. He doesn't stink. He makes the throws he needs to make, I just think he's overrated.

I am sticking with my earlier contention that Wade Phillips is a terrible coach. Yesterday's game against Cardinals provided me with more ammunition. It's not that Cardinals stink - they don't. They have a lot of weapons on offense and played well on defense. But Cowboys lost the game giving up two special teams TDs - one on the first and one on the last play of the game - an opening KO return for a TD and a blocked OT punt to end it. Special teams play is 90% coaching. You need big, fast athletes to play on ST and certainly some teams have more ST freaks than others making them particularly good in that phase. But - when you're fielding 53 guys that are all world class athletes, every team has a sufficient number of great athletes to play decent special teams.... IF THEY HAVE DECENT COACHING.

Jim Fassel was coach of the Giants for 7 years or so and never got the ST right; they always were well below average. Coughlin came in and with largely the same group of athletes, fixed the ST in his first year. He is a very good findamentals coach. By contrast, Wade Phillips was the losing coach on the greatest ST swindle play in NFL playoff history, the "Music City Miracle", so he has a history of being bad ST coach. Yesterday's failures were just another example to add to the resume. I don't want to overplay it because sometimes teams make plays on ST against well coached ST of other teams. But still. Phillips is an incompetent HC.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Another thought about team depth

With the depth of the roster that our front office has built and with the commitment of the coaching staff to playing the entire roster, we get to take advantge of every player, from 1 to 53. One of the things that drove me nuts about ex-coach Jim Fassel was his insistence on playing only the starters for every snap of the game. As a result, we suffered with the following consequences: (1) players got injured more often because they played even when they were tired; (2) they were less effective as the game wore on; (3) when a starter went down, you were putting in a player that had absolutely no game experience. And, perhaps most important, (4) when a player retired, left via FA, or got cut, you had no idea what you had on your roster - whether the subs were worthy of keeping or whether you had to go out and get new players. By contrast, under Coughlin, because players now know they are going to get into the games, they practice harder and prepare harder and are actually ready when called upon. Looking at the playoff run last year, in every game our pass rush got better as the game wore on, certainly because we had a 6-7 man rotation on the DL and stayed fresh. Very important.

I shared this thought with my friend Ray Murphy and he made the following great point that highlights the depth on the team and the commitment of the coaches to use the entire roster. The most important defensive series that the Giants had in probably the last 15 years was when the Patriots got the ball back with less than a minute to go in the Superbowl after Manning-to-Tyree and Manning-to-Burress TD put us ahead. The biggest play in that series was a sack of Brady on 2nd down that was done by Jay Alford, a rookie DT, who plays probably about 1/5 of the snaps of the game. But - it was his turn in the DL rotation, so he was in there.

I love this coaching staff.

Are Giants Best Team in NFL?

Giants may not have the best 22-man set of starters in the NFL, but I contend that they have the best 53 man roster. More particularly, for example - if you compare our starters to Cowboy starters on offense (excluding the qb, I'll get to that later) it's probably true that few Giants starters would start on the Cowboys. Our best OL-man is probably Snee and he happens to play the same position as Leonard Davis, the huge G that Cowboys converted from T when they signed him from Arizona. Giants C O'Hara is very good, but Cowboy's C Gurdoe is a probowl player. Diehl plays his heart out at LT but gave up more sacks last year than any other LT in football. Owens vs. Burress - I love Burress, but TO is better. At TE Witten is far better than Boss. At the other WR Toomer is probably better than whoever they start, but is certainly not a star himself. At RB, Jacobs is very good but Marion Barber is a better player. So - of the 10 starters excluding qb, they are probably superior at 7 or 8 positions. But here's where the depth of the roster comes in to play: if TO, Marion Barber or Flozell Adams goes out with an injury, their offense declines greatly. On the other hand, if our starting RT, star WR AND his replacement get injured/suspended as they did this past Sunday, Giants go out and hang 44 on a team that made the playoffs last year and most picked to win their division this year.

Of course unspoken in all this is the great equalizer: the qb position. I cannot say that Eli is the best qb in football right now. (I can say it and I believe it, but others could argue against it.) But I can say this - I would not trade him for any qb in football. For one game, Brady or Peyton may be better. Maybe Carson Plamer throws a prettier ball or Drew Brees is more productive right now. But when you consider what he has accomplished at such a young age, when you further consider that he is getting better each game, and when you consider how young he is - when all is said and done, we may be looking at the growth of one of the best qbs to ever play the game. Watching how he has continued to grow from last year, I can say without hesitation that I expect him to win 1 or 2 more rings for us in the next 5-6 years. Of course, Dan Marino made the Super Bowl his rookie year with the Dolphins and never got close again, so maybe that is presumptuous of me to say. But - I just have a pretty good feeling about this kid.

Just so you don't think I'm crazy, take a look at this:

Seahawks post mortem - defense

Giants defense completely shut down the Seahawks offense, and this was a team that was getting its two starting WRs back and has a very capable QB good enough to take his team to the SuperBowl just a few years ago.

But of course that is the type of superficial analysis you can get from the newspapers. I would like to analyze it a bit more by comparing this game to our previous game against the Bengals. Carson Palmer moved the ball very well against us that game. If he hadn't run out of time, he might have scored a TD to beat us at the end of regulation instead of just a tying FG. They used several startegies against our defense that game:
(1) to blunt our pass rush, they went to a lot of 3-step-drops and let Carson Palmer get rid of the ball quickly in almost a west-coast style offense.
(2) they ran 3 WR almost all game and their slot receiver, Chatman, was very quick and gave Dcokery fits
(3) they guessed right on all our blitz packages and had max protection with 2 RBs in the backfield to help out.

The impressive thing to me about our defense against Seattle and our coaching is that Seattle runs a west coast offense as its base system and they too were running 3 WR formations often to copy what Bengals did against us. We must have been tipping off our blitzes with our formations which is why the Bengals were ready for us. This is not entirely surprising because the league now has more than a year of film on our defense to anlyze it and pick up reads. But in the bye week, when our own offense and defense scout each other, the offense noted that we were tipping the blitzes and DC Spagnuolo changed things up subtly to disguise our formations better. Also - we blitzed less against Seattle, got after them with a standard DL pass rush - but - our DBs played more tight, man to man press coverage to take away the quick hitters that are part of the west coast style.

I was impressed both with the talent of our DBs to pull this off and the quality of our coaching to subtly change things. Dockery had a much steadier game and they lined him up outside more often and let Ross take the inside slot man more often, which might be a better fit for their skills.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Seahawks post mortem - offense

What can you say - about as close as you can come to a perfect half of football. Running lanes were open and our RBs found them. Pass blocking was good and we decided to throw the ball down the field instead of throwing short stuff. Eli was scary good. Hixon loooks like a star in the making.

You can question the quality of the Seahawks, but this is a team that went to the playoffs last year, has made the playoffs for 4 or 5 years in a row and is only 2 years removed from going to the Superbowl. They may have declined a little, but they are still a solid team. They struggled the first two games because of WR injuries, but they got their starters back this past week. We are just way better than they are.

Permit me to make two comments on two particular offensive plays:

The first TD pass to Hixon was gorgeous. Double move by Hixon, but he was only behind the DB by a step or two. Eli not only led him perfectly, but the ball positioning was perfect, throwing it slightly to the outside where Hixon had position, and arced it perfectly so that it dropped into Hixon's hands out of the reach of DB.

Second comment is on the pass to Toomer before second TD. It was about a 30 yard play. Our OL gets lots of credit for being one of best in the league. I think they are a superior run blocking group and certainly above average in pass blocking, but not great in that aspect of the game. Eli does not get enough credit for the pocket presence he has developed, for anticipating where the rush is coming from and for taking a few quick steps to avoid a rusher, which makes the OL look better than they really are. (Anybody remember the David Tyree play?) He did this on that play, turning his front shoulder to avoid the rush and then stepping forward and to his right - just a step or two - to make some space. He still had a guy running right at him and got hit as he threw the ball but still the throw was perfect. Toomer was not really open - the DB got called for PI on the play and was holding Toomer so he could stay close to him. But the pass fell into the basket just like the one to Hixon. It was a remarkable throw.

Boss is not a crushing blocker, especially in close quarters on inside running plays, but he is a fine blocker on the perimeter and this is reflected in the number of long runs we seem to be breaking. His weakness on the inside power blocking shows in us occasionally not making short yardage plays, which we certainly should with a bruiser like Jacobs back there.