Monday, December 1, 2008

Redskins post mortem I

I'm sticking to the game first and will talk about this ridiculous, awful Plaxico incident in a later post.

It's difficult to overstate how thorough the domination of the Giants over the Redskins was yesterday. Except for one reverse that the Redskins ran - a real nice play that was an effective design against the Giants fast, pursuit oriented defense - Redskins really didn't come close to scoring any points yesterday. Redskins had 320 yards of offense yesterday, which is not a terrible number, but 110 of them came in garbage time on their last two meaningless drives, when the game was over and Giants were playing soft zones giving away underneath stuff in the pass. In the first half, Redskins on their first three possessions were: 3-and-out; 3-and-out; and 1 first down on their third possession ending in a punt to the Giants after 6 plays and 32 yards gained.

The Giants first three possessions ended in 3 scores. So after those first three possessions for each team, Giants had 13 points and 190 yards of offense and the Redskins had 3 punts and 47 yards of offense. That is called setting a tone. Redskins had everything to play for and were the far more desperate team. If Giants had lost yesterday, they would still be in control of the division crown and a first round bye. Redskins on the other hand are now on the outside looking in when it comes to the NFC wildcard race as there are two teams ahead of them for the final slot. In addition, the Redskins tried to stoke the emotions of their team and their crowd by retiring the number of Sean Taylor before the game. They saw the Giants play with great emotion when their owner Wellington Mara died two years ago and the Giants beat the Skins 36-0. They were trying to use the death of Taylor to return the favor. (Frankly I thought it was a really cheap, sleazy maneuver, that tried to leverage the tragic death of a young man as a prop for winning a football game, but that's me.) With everything to play for and great emotion sparking them, you would think they would come out and smack the Giants in the mouth at the beginning and the Giants would have to recover and try to stabilize the game. Instead the Giants flattened the Redskins right from the beginning.

On their fourth possession the Redskins made a few plays and scored their TD on the 29 yard run, after a Webster INT was waved off because of a soft penalty. At the end of the first half they moved the ball a bit and missed a FG, but that was it. At no time did it look like their offense could be effective against the Giants defense.

When the Giants had the ball, the Redskins decided that they had to stop the Giants running game. It's not a bad strategy, really. Giants ran all over the Redskins in the first meeting and have a powerful running game. If you can't stop their running game, Giants will dominate the game easily. Furthermore, Plaxico was out and the weather was forecast to be rainy and windy so they though it would be difficult for Eli to throw. In the first half, with 8 and 9 guys at the line of scrimmage (not just in the box, but actually at the line of scrimmage and run-blitzing all over the place) it was hard for the Giants to establish a consistent running game. But the Giants are such a balanced powerful offense that they simply put the ball in the hands of Eli Manning and he played brilliantly. Nearly every pass was on the money. Every read was perfect. His decision making was impeccable. The really impressive thing about his performance is that the Redskins have an outstanding db-field: they have 4 outstanding CBs in Carlos Rogers, Fred Smoot, Shaun Springs and newly signed D'Angelo Hall and an excellent safety in LaRon Landry. Eli hit a few wide open receivers when Redskins blitzed and he found the hot receiver. But there were several other throws where the receiver was well covered and Eli threw a perfect ball for the completion. Even his INT was a good throw that Hixon did not locate in time.

What made the Giants passing game work a little more effectively was the personnel groupings that the Redskins used. It looked to me like the Redskins were reluctant to switch to nickel/dime personnel even when Giants showed pass. They kept their base personnel in the game more often because they were so committed to stopping the run. After Eli had thrown for 220 yards in the first half and Redskins backed off the line of scrimmage a little bit, Giants got their running game going and were fairly effective with it. They scored a TD running on their first possession of the second half and coasted after that.

Snee is a star on the OL. Diehl is playing better than he did last year. O'Hara is very mobile and can stand up to the big DT's in the league. The thing that makes the Giants DL so good is how athletic and quick they are. Giants do not have a huge OL, but are well prepared, well coached, smart and athletic.

Boss is really maturing as TE. He is making big plays nearly every week. His presence will become more important, especially with the loss of Burress - maybe Boss can be the tall target around the goal line. I would think an ex-basketball player could elevate, could catch the ball while jumping - like rebounding - and could be the big target at the goal line. In the past few weeks Boss as shown his jumping ability by hurdling over an Eagle DB two weeks ago and by jumping over a couple of Redskins yesterday on his 25 yard pass play yesterday. I said last year that in the Giants offense, Boss was a a better fit than Shockey and had a more prototypical body type for TE. I think I was right. Boss is a year or two away from being an all-pro player. Last year, there was hand wringing and worrying when Shockey went out that the Giants running game would falter because Shockey was such an exceptional blocker. I think we can stop worrying about that one since Giants are the leading rushing team in the league.

Robbins was out with bad shoulders and Jay Alford, who I think is a coming star, stepped in and did a great job. Cofield was under the spotlight a little more and played very well. Tuck was dominant.

Speaking about the defense: the Giants defense is very different in character from last year and I think is much better. yesterday, Giants blitzed a lot and relied on a pass rush to stop the opponent's passing game. The defense was oriented towards the front 7 and the db-field was mediocre. This year, the front 7 is still strong, but the db-field has improved and is as good as any in the league. Webster is a star and Ross has improved at CB. Terrell Thomas was a great draft pick and seems to have supplanted Kevin Dockery as the regular nickel back. Add in Kenny Phillips at safety and much better play from Johnson and Butler and we can understand why Sammy Knight never saw the field, was used only on special teams and now has been IR'ed. Sam Madison and RW McQuarters were Giants best dbs last year and they never get on the field and often are inactive for the game.

Big picture: Giants played the Redskins twice and held them to one TD in each game. I think that means that the Giants are way freaking better than them. In fact the games had some similarities. Giants got off to a quick lead. Redskins offense was stymied. Redskins running game was completely shut down in both games. Redskins made a few plays right at the end of the first half and scored a TD to make the game close on the scoreboard. Giants dominated the 2nd half and won in a walk. The only difference between the two games was that in he first game Giants offense was run based and in the second game the Giants beat the Redskins with their passing game.

I really think the Redskins are a very pedestrian team offensively. Their OL is solid, but outside of Santana Moss they have no WR with any speed. Cooley is good at TE but not great. Portis is really good and tough, but he's not great. I don't think much of Jason Campbell. He is a great runner and is an average passer. He went on a little run early this year when Redskins put in their new west coast offense and teams didn't know what to expect. Now that they're getting scouted by defenses a bit, he's settling down to his true level of ability.

At some point the world will wake up and realize that Eli Manning is the best qb in football. No Plaxico? No problemo. Last week against the Cardinals, no Plaxico or Jacobs - Giants still dominate offensively. There are only two common denominators - the OL and the qb. Imagine the Redskins without Santana Moss and Clinton Portis. Imagine the Cowboys without TO and Marion Barber. Giants don't miss a beat.

The only negatives from yesterday's game from a Giants perspective were: 3 FGs instead of TDs and soft KO coverage.

Finally a look at the refs:

Ridiculous call on Webster negating his INT. The call was illegal hands to the face and there was no chuck at the line of scrimmage, there might have been some incidental contact, but it was a ridiculous call.

Second ridiculous call was the offensive holding that negated Derrick Ward's long run in the second half. You know it was a bogus call because the ref didn't give a number, he just said it was on the TE. I looked carefully at the play several times and neither Matthews nor Boss held.

Giants may have gotten one favorable call with the PI that was not called against Michael Johnson when the WR ran into him. I think Johnson was standing still, had his position and the WR initiated the contact, almost like an offensive foul in basketball. But it is a call that the refs usually make, so Giants may have gotten away with one there.

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