Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Eagles post mortem

Giants got beaten soundly on Sunday; there's not much doubt about that. When you get a special teams TD on a blocked FG and still don't win, it means you were outplayed by a lot. Somehow though, after reviewing the game on video, I think it was not as bad a beating as it seemed on the day of the game itself. The bad things were of course that the offense didn't score any points until the last garbage time TD and that the defense could not get the Eagles off the field in the second half. But if you're looking for me to say that this is a negative sign of things to come for this team, that without Burress it is a shell of itself and that it doesn't have a passing attack, look somewhere else, because I don't think that is the case at all. I really think that the Eagles outplayed the Giants by a little at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The Eagles DL didn't knock the Giants down on every play - Giants had quite a few successful running plays. The problem was a confluence of circumstances that converged to give the Eagles defense a leg up on the Giants. Eagles did exactly what I said they would in the pregame prediction. They tried to take away the Giants running game by bringing an extra S up in run support. But it was really much more aggressive run defense than that - they had their LBs and BOTH safeties running down hill towards the line of scrimmage. They run blitzed very often and had both safeties walking to the line of scrimmage. Eagles DC Johnson said after the game that when Burress is in the game, they keep a S back to defend him specifically because the Eagles CBs are so small. Burress has had huge games against the Eagles in the past and they change their game plan to account for him. When the defense plays this aggressively, the offense has to take some shots down the field to stretch the defense and move the S off the line of scrimmage. The wind made it very difficult to throw down field and the drops by Giants WRs on key plays - the deep ball by Hixon, the 4th and 3 drop by Smith combined to make the Eagles aggressive strategy work. In addition to that, I thought Jacobs ran tentatively and when Giants OL pierced the first level of Eagles run defenders, he was not able to make any big plays. Giants are going to get other chances to handle this defensive scheme, because you can guarantee that every team will play the Giants this way. Ravens did it four games ago, Cardinals did it three games ago and Redskins tried this defense last week and in all cases, Eli was able to move the ball through the air, get the defense moved off the line and get the offense cooking. The difference this week is that the weather conditions were made for this type of defense and the Eagles play this defense all the time. If the Cowboys try this approach, I have confidence that the Giants will be able to attack their overrated secondary and make plays to Hixon, Toomer and others. Of course, the worrisome news is that Giants will have to do this without the best WR on the team, but I am confident they can do it. It is naive to think that they are just as good without Plaxico as with him and that Hixon can fill in seamlessly. But, as I've been saying, the offense will not fall apart.

I think that if opposing defenses sell out to stop the run like the Eagles do, it is more important than ever to get Bradshaw some touches. He is very elusive and if he can make one guy miss, he goes for 80 yards, not 20. That's what Westbrook did on Sunday in his 30 yard TD run when we had 9 guys advancing to the line of scrimmage, all at the same level. There was a mistake in coverage by S Butler on that play, but once Westbrook go past the first level, he was gone. He didn't need to weave his way through the db-field.

Still on the offensive side of the ball - Boss had a very bad day blocking in the running game. He could not handle the S that he was matched against - they were too quick for him and they got him out of position several times. On the end around to Manningham that lost 12 yards, Boss missed a block badly on the LB or that play could have gone for decent yardage. Giants seemed out of sync at times in their blocking assignments and were not able to operate as smoothly as in the past.

Uncharacteristically, Hedgecock had a bad day blocking also and missed several blocks. When he engaged the guy he defeated him, but I counted 3 times where he whiffed on his block.

Giants are not using Sinorice Moss correctly. They have not yet used him to stretch the defense down the field with his speed. They are using him on short hitches and hooks; he always gets a big cushion because of his speed and he seems to catch every ball. They also use him on the drag routes over the middle trying to pretend he's Wes Welker and hope that he'll catch one out of the view of the defense, make someone miss and run for a big gain. But it's too easy to defend that route and the Eagles got in his way and bumped him preventing him from getting open. This doesn't hurt the team as much when Hixon and Burress are both deep threats, but when Burress is out, you have to get Moss moving down the field.

Eagles didn't do much on offense against the Giants defense, but they did enough, especially in the second half. They converted a string of 11 out of 12 first downs, mostly because McNabb played such a good game running the ball. Giants had no sacks but they did have pressure on McNabb several times and he ran away from it to complete passes and to run himself for several first downs. Giants strategy against Eagles in the first game and yesterday was to not to bring a lot of pressure and blitzes because they don't think McNabb is an accurate enough passer to beat you with his arm. Keep him in the pocket and make him beat you by throwing the ball. It's not a bad strategy, even though I would have preferred being a bit more aggressive. The problem Sunday was that even when Giants got pressure with their DL, they were not able to keep McNabb contained in the pocket. He broke out several times to make plays and it made it look like the Giants DL was completely dominated, but it really wasn't that bad.

A little mathematics/probability lesson for you all to show you how close the game could have been and how truly unlikely it was for the Eagles to keep the ball that long in the second half. Eagles converted 11 out of 12 first downs in the 2nd half. Teams would be thrilled to have a 40% or 50% conversion rate. Assuming they have a very strong 60% conversion rate on any individual 3rd down play, the probability of converting on 11 of 12 3rd down plays is 2.7%.

Giants LBs got toasted in this game. McNabb beat them on some of his scrambles. Westbrook beat them on his two big plays. TE LJ Smith beat them for several key receptions. Kenny Phillips missed a few tackles on Smith also. In fact, on both of Westbrook's long plays, it looked like Pierce was the victim, but the S should have given him help. You have to give the Eagles coaching staff credit, this is the first time I have seen Spagnuolo out coached. Their blocking schemes kept the Giants from sacking McNabb, they found the right plays for 3rd down conversions, kept getting Westbrook enough touches until they could find him in favorable match ups where he could make a big play. They attacked the weak spot of the Giants defense and made enough plays to win the game. Westbrook had an absolutely great game, blocking, running and catching passes. He is a great player.

The refs failed to call a few fairly obvious PI penalties against the Giants and against the Eagles.

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