Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Look ahead to the Eagles

The Plaxico story is in the books. His season is over officially by the actions the Giants took putting him on non-football injury reserve list (which I predicted, btw). Giants also took a very conciliatory tone with Plaxico and did not immediately cut him, which was also my recommendation. By saying that they supported him and cared for his health and well-being, they avoided any locker room disharmony from any players who supported their fallen teammate. He was going to be out for 6 weeks anyway according to the team doctor, so Burress having an impact on the season or the playoffs was a moot point. Giants did the right thing and handled it properly. In the off-season away from the pressure and glare of the season they can make the divorce final. According to various media reports, Reese did a very intelligent job with the contract and the salary cap hit for cutting Burress will be minimal.

I am somewhat concerned about this Eagles game coming up. On paper, we shouldn't be worried: Giants beat them already in their building, they are only 6-5-1, Giants are 7 1/2 point favorites, but still.... It's not who you play, it's when you play them. Did the Eagles turn the corner last week with their big win against the Cardinals? Maybe. In the three games before that, they lost to the Giants, tied the Bengals (Donovan- are ties allowed in football?) and got absolutely spanked by the Ravens. That's three bad games in a row before beating the Cardinals. But - Cardinals had a late game against the Giants the previous Sunday, had to travel cross country for a Thursday night game, which means that they had one day to practice and prepare for the Eagles. Cardinals turned the ball over a bunch of times and Eagles got on a roll. I'm talking myself out of being concerned about the Eagles - rather than the Cardinals game being a turn around for the Eagles, it was probably an anomaly itself; but the Eagles are a funny team. They are not as sound and balanced as the Giants, but they have two players that can come up with big plays on offense - McNabb and Westbrook. I have said many times before on this blog that I don't think McNabb is a great qb; he is simply not a consistent passer and lord knows the grey matter between the ears may be a bit lacking. But he is a great athlete and he can come up with a big game now and then and propel his team. Westbrook seems to be getting healthy again and of course is a dangerous player.

In the first game, Giants ran the ball very effectively against the Eagles. Eagles have a slightly undersized DL and Giants OL pushed them around a bit. I think that despite how well Eli played against the Redskins last week, most teams will come in with the same game plan that the Redskins did: stack the line of scrimmage to take away the running game and make Eli beat them. This is a particularly inviting tactic now, with Plaxico gone for the season. With the additional awareness that the Eagles got punished in the running game last time Giants played them, I would be surprised if Eagles did not try the same tactic this week. Fortunately, the Eagles DB-field is overrated and a little banged up, so if Eli has to throw the ball, I feel confident that he will be able to do so, even without Burress in the game. The one thing that will be challenging for the Giants is that Eagle DC Johnson likes to blitz a lot and when they blitzed safeties from Burress side of the field, thy left him in single coverage and got burned. Burress had big games against the Eagles in the past. Hixon is going to have to step up big to replace Burress.

Also - Giants ran a few screens to Ward last week very effectively. The one that looked best was not the old-school classic screen pass, where the OL lets the DL rush and then slides out to the flat to block for the RB. Rather - the RB simply slipped out to the side, right next to the OT on that side of the field not all the way into the flat, but actually right on the line of scrimmage. It was a quick developing screen and Ward broke one of them for a long gain.

On defense, the Giants should change it up a little bit against McNabb. Last time, they blitzed selectively and tried to keep him in the pocket. It was fairly effective, but the Eagles did score 31 points. I guess it is true that they got 14 points off turnovers, so the 31 points can't all be charged to the defense. Nevertheless, I think Spags can open it up a little and blitz more. You don't want to give a team the same exact looks twice in a row. Then again, if you're better than the other guys, just line up, keep it simple and beat their brains in.

Boss could be a big weapon for Giants this week. He's getting better every week; Gilbride is now starting to use him all over the field - on the outside as well as over the middle in the territory formerly reserved for Steve Smith, and he's running slightly deeper routes. Most of all - Eagles like to blitz a lot and rely on their db-field to go 1-on-1 with the opposing receivers. Often this means they will leave the TE alone or singled up on a LB. Boss has been very good at reading defenses and getting in the right spots for Eli (as opposed to that other TE Giants used to have who was very, um, creative with where he was on the field) and Boss could make some big catches for the Giants. Remember the play Boss made last week against the Redskins - he accurately read a blitz, he chip blocked for a moment to slow down the pass rush, and then floated a few yards down field where Eli hit him with a 6 yard pass that turned into 25 with the run after the catch. We could see something like that this week. On other plays, we could see Boss staying in to max-protect at times and try to let Eli go down the field to one of the WRs.

Last time, I said that on a neutral field Giants would win by 10 points but in Philly, who knows what could happen. Well, the game is on Giants turf now, so from that perspective, we should be OK. Still.... I'm a bit nervous

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