Monday, August 31, 2009

Giants: Jets game review

To read the various blogs, newspaper articles and opinion pieces, you would think that the Giants will not complete a pass greater than 12 yards this year and they have no player at the WR position that has the talent to play in the NFL. We were all disappointed with the performance in Chicago in the second preseason game: the Giants just did not come to play and the WRs did not get a chance to make any plays because of lack of time to throw the ball. You saw no separation between the WR and the defenders and you began to wonder if the talent was there in the WR corps to stretch the field and balance the offense and its powerful running game. I consider myself fairly realistic when it comes to judging the Giants - I am neither a wide-eyed optimist, nor am I a depressing woe-is-me pessimist. Everyone is crying about the fact that there were so many dropped balls in the game. The most blatant of these was the drop by Steve Smith in the 1st qtr on the Giants second possession, a play that would have gone for a 90 yard TD on a ball thrown by Eli that travelled 60 yards in the air. Manningham dropped another ball that would have gone for about 30 yards. Hixon dropped a ball that ended up as an interception, but that was as much a good play by Scott who hit Hixon right after the ball arrived. Nicks dropped a ball also in the middle of the field. I know the WR corps is being rebuilt and is being carefully scrutinized to see if the Giants can come up with the replacements to the starters for the last several years, Toomer and Burress. Those drops were ugly and WRs are supposed to catch the ball. I don't want to make it seem like I am looking at the Giants through rose colored glasses, but I was actually moderately encouraged by what I saw from the WRs. I did not care for the drops, of course, but I saw something that I hadn't seen from these WRs - speed, quickness and big play ability. In the first preseason games, I didn't see WRs getting any separation from their defenders. In this game, I saw WRs getting open all game long. Manningham, to me, looked particularly quick and impressive. You have to catch the ball - I am not minimizing that obvious fact. But I think you can work on catching and concentrating on the ball; that can be coached. But you can't coach speed and quickness. If you had a choice between two minor league 20 year old pitchers: one who throws 95 mph and has a sharp breaking curve ball, but hasn't mastered the art of pitching to both sides of the plate or how to set up a hitter; and the other who was polished, smart, had impeccable control, but had an average curve ball whose fast ball tops out at 89 mph, which are you taking? I'm taking the guy with the great stuff and coaching him how to pitch. Same with Mannigham and Nicks - I know they know how to catch - maybe they have to be coached to concentrate better, but you can't coach a guy to run faster. Some of Manningham's drops may have come on routes that were not quite precise enough, leading to bad-looking throws from Eli or lack of separation from the DB. But he can run and he can cut. He also looks to have very quick feet, and seems to be strong in his upper body, which means that he should be able to get off the line of scrimmage and handle press coverage and chucking by the DBs. I was moderately encouraged by what I saw.

Hakeem Nicks looks like a very smooth player. Despite his one drop, he made a great catch on his first TD and a good read, route adjustment and move on his second TD. You can't get too excited about those plays, since they were against players that may not be in the NFL this year, but he may be ready to contribute earlier than we thought.

I am more worried about the defense. There has been little continuity in training camp and in the games because of the numerous injuries. Giants have not had the starting defense playing together at all this summer. Alford, Boley, Canty, Ross and Pierce, are all still out. Webster, Robbins, Bernard and a few others have all missed significant time. Giants got a real boost when Robbins started to play and practice and Bernard even got into the game on Saturday night. The reports are also that Boley is recovering well and is off the PUP list and ready to start practicing, which is more good news. However, in the games, there have been lots of missed tackles and the team appears very lethargic. If Spagnolo was still DC, I would be less worried, but with a new DC, Sheridan, who is an unknown quantity, I just can't be sure they will play at the high energy and quality level that they have the past two years.

C.C. Brown, a FA addition this off-season looks awful at S. He is only a back up, so I am not saying this is a catastrophe. He looks big to me, but slow. On top of that he is a tackle-missing machine.

Terrell Thomas looks very good to me in coverage, but has also missed tackles in the last few games.

I don't know what is going to happen at the LB position. The Giants have a lot of players at the position that have started to play well. Wilkinson looks very good and he has finally been healthy though the preseason. He is physical and fast. Goff and Kehl, last year's rookies, have played well, particularly Kehl, who has great speed. Sintim has showed natural ability but is a little bit of a development project. Chase Blackburn is a lock to make the team, as he is the most experienced backup to Pierce at MLB. If the Giants were making these moves strictly on ability, they might let Danny Clark go and roll the dice with one of the young LBs in his starting slot. Clark has experience and the Giants might not want to let him go, but there's a good player that will get cut from this group who will end up playing in the NFL this year.

The other position group at which there appears to be very intense competition for only a few spots is the OL. The 5 starters are set, of course and Beatty will make the team, as will Koets, who has emerged as the only backup C behind O'Hara. Reyes has played well at the backup G position which leaves Boothe and Whimper off the team, unless the Giants decide to carry 9 OL-men, which is unlikely. Whimper has played better this preseason and you hate to let go of a potential starting T, so the numbers game in the OL is very interesting.

I can not figure out why Sinorice Moss did not get into the game at WR. He is probably the fastest WR on the team and doesn't drop the ball. I don't get it. Giants need WR speed and play making ability and they are not even trying to get the most out of a 2nd round draft choice. It sure looks like they are getting ready to cut him. Someone will pick him up also, and in the right offense, with an OC who has a half a brain, Moss will catch a lot of TD passes for some team in the NFL this year. If Moss gets cut from the Giants, I see him ending up on the Jets or the Bears.

Eli and the TE's look out of sync in this new passing offense. Manning overthrew Boss twice badly, on one of which he looked like he had a step on the S for a TD.

Giants need one more preseason game to get sharp with the offense and the defense. Maybe they should play the starters, at least on offense, in that 4th preseason game for the 1st quarter. The fact that it is Thursday night, after a Saturday night game, makes it very unlikely, but it is a thought.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Giants: Notes for Giants-Jets game

Great - first the defensive injuries disrupt preparation for the defense in the Giants training camp practice schedule. Then, the Bears game is a total waste of time because the Giants come ill-equipped and unready to play. Because the OL did not show up for the game, they can not work on their offensive preparation and their passing game. And now, the 3rd preseason game, the annual tussle against the Jets, Giants Stadium co-tenants (soon to be stadium partners), appears like it will be disrupted by hurricane Danny. The primary path of the hurricane is supposed to be somewhat to the east of NJ, out in the Atlantic Ocean mostly affecting Long Island. But there is a chance of rain all day long on Saturday and possible thunderstorms in the evening. This will surely disrupt the offensive game plan and limit the value of what the Giants can do in the passing game. If the Giants were smart, they were going to try to get Mannignham, Moss, Nicks and Barden in the game with Manning. I would still go forward with that plan and do as much as they can despite the weather.

As crazy as it sounds, I would not mind giving the starters some reps in the 4th preseason game against the Patriots, depending on how the Jets game progresses. Obviously, staying healthy and avoiding injury is more important than the few reps you would get in the 4th preseason game. This is especially true of an opponent like the Patriots, because Bellichick traditionally doesn't let his starters near the field in that final game. So getting reps against them is like practicing against a college team; though I guess it still might be better than nothing. I guess it will depend on how things look against the Jets.

Sadly, it looks more and more likely that Super Bowl LXII hero David Tyree, will not make the team. I thought there might be a slim opening when Giants 4th round draft choice Andre Brown went down with a injury and was lost for the year. Typically someone in that slot on the depth chart plays a lot of special teams. If the Giants felt that there were no other RBs in camp worthy of making the roster, then instead of carrying 4 RBs like they did last year, perhaps they would carry only Jacobs, Bradshaw and Ware. This would open up a slot for an extra WR, who could be a ST ace. Sounds good in theory, but in practice it may not work out so well. First of all, Allen Patrick, rookie RB has shown speed, some talent and might be good enough to make the final roster. Secondly, and more importantly, the Giants have a 7th WR that has emerged and is playing well, Derek Hagan. Hagan is an excellent ST player and is catching everything in practice. I don't know if you have noticed, but Barden has been playing ST and looks like he is very good in punt coverage. (I don't know how you could miss a 6'6" WR running down the field on ST, but trust me - he has been.) So instead of a roster spot opening up, if anything, it looks like another one has been taken away. Add to that the fact that Tyree has had, by all reports, a very mediocre training camp, with lots of dropped passes and without showing speed or production in the passing game, and you have to conclude that his chances of making the roster are very slim.

Some random thoughts:

What's the over/under on number of times a punter hits the overhead video screen and scoreboard in the new Texas Stadium? I'm hoping it's at least once per game, and that it makes ESPN's plays of the week every time.

Old definition of a New York minute: the time interval between the moment the light turns green and the cabby behind you honks his horn.
New definition of a New York minute: the time interval between Mark Sanchez throwing his first inteception that costs his team a game and the Jets Nation sounding out a collective cry of grief that he will never be any good and the Jets are doomed for the next 5 years because of his contract.

How come everybody was up in arms about Eli Manning's 6 year $97M contract, implying that it was ridiculously overpriced, but, less than a week later, nobody made a peep when Phillip Rivers signed a 6 year contract with the Chargers for $92M. I guess that extra $5M was the difference maker. I forget: how many Superbowls did Rivers take the Chargers to?

Has anybody noticed how great Brandon Jacobs looks this preseason? He looks more polished than in previous years, and smarter in his runs. Somehow he also looks even more powerful than in previous seasons. He even made a nice catch on a pass in the preseason. I think the Giants will be a good screen team this year. Teams will tend to blitz a lot against the Giants in passing downs; screens with very quick RBs like Bradshaw and Ware could be very effective.

Bears look better to me in the NFCN than the Vikings, despite their lack of big time WRs. I think Favre will wear down as the season goes along, same as he did the last two seasons. Maybe playing in a dome in Minnesota and giving the ball to Adrian Peterson 30 times a game will save wear and tear on his body this time and Favre and the Vikings will surprise me.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Giants: An important preseason game?

Maybe I am overstating things a bit, but I really think the upcoming preseason game against the Jets is an important one. I don't care if the Giants win or lose against the Jets. Bragging rights, especially in a preseason game, is for Vinny from Staten Island or Maury from Queens who like to call up sports talk radio to predict Superbowl for their own team and dump on the other team on the basis of beating their hated cross town rivals. That's not why this is an important game for the Giants. The reason this is important is because, IMHO, the Giants did not really establish some of the important objectives that they set out to do this training camp. Or if they did, they didn't show it to us on the playing field.

The Giants had a few major objectives this training camp:
  1. Develop the WR corps. By that I mean - let a WR emerge from the group as a true star player and a legitimate deep threat. Determine if Moss is worth keeping and see if Manningham can harness the quickness and talent that he has. Develop the rookies, Nicks and Barden and give them some valuable playing time so they can contribute in the regular season. Most of all, work on the new passing game, which promises to feature more deep balls as well as more quick slants and crossing routes to take advantage of the quickness of these WRs.
  2. On defense, clarify the rotation in the DL and determine the new styles that the defense will use because of the different players that have been brought in. Determine the health of Robbins and Cofield after their off-season surgeries. Most important, acclimate new comer Chris Canty to the 4-3 defense because he has played his entire college and pro career in a 3-4. Determine how Rocky Bernard and Micahel Boley fit into the new defense.

Those were the main camp objectives, and the way I see it, the Giants accomplished almost none of these objectives. In the first preseason game against the Panthers, the starters generally play only 1 qtr, which translated to 2 series. That's not enough time to work the new WRs into the mix and give them some playing time with Manning and the starters. The starting WRs stayed in for both possessions. In the 2nd preseason game, the 1's stay out a bit longer, into the 2nd qtr and perhaps almost to the half. You start to work on things offensively and can work some different WR combinations onto the field. Unfortunately, you saw what happened to the Giants in that 2nd preseason game: it was a total washout. Giants did not come to play, they were outplayed physically at the line of scrimmage and there was no opportunity for any of the QB's to throw the ball down the field, to get into any rhythm offensively and to work on the passing game. All we learned from that Bears game is that if you can't block for the qb, Eli Manning is about as effective as Andre' Woodson.

The 3rd preseason game is the one where the 1's get the most playing time. It's a progression from game 1, to game 2 and then 3; and the starters will stay on the field for a half, perhaps into the 3rd qtr. This gives the offense a chance to work on some things and try out some new players by blending them in with the 1's rather than just throwing them on the field with other substitutes in mop up duty. In the fourth preseason game, the 1's often don't even get on the field, because the coach wants to make sure nobody gets injured. My point is, that because the 2nd preseason game against the Bears was such a miserable game, really the only game the Giants get to really develop their passing offense and test out the new WR's is game 3. This is the most important preseason game I can remember the Giants having, from a developmental point of view, of course.

The defensive objectives are a little more troubling, because of all the injuries that the Giants have suffered, particularly in the DL. Canty has a bad hamstring and has not seen the field for several weeks. Bernard and Robbins are still hurting. Boley will not practice and will not suit up until week 2 because of injury and league suspension. Those are key players that the Giants wanted to work into the mix. In addition to that, Tuck and Pierce are nicked up, Alford suffered a bad knee injury and Aaron Ross has a bad hammy. By my count, Giants have 4 DT's that are hurt which can put a dent in any team's lineup, no matter how deep you are. Fortunately the substitute DL-men have shown a lot of talent in the practice and preseason games. Because of that and because of the injuries, some players may make the team that we did not expect to. It's still 2 1/2 weeks until opening day, so maybe some of the injured players will get healthy and be ready. But missing practice time and valuable game playing time for guys trying to get used to a new defense could be a problem.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Giants: preseason game vs. Bears

Ugh. That was ugly. I don't want to sweep it under the rug, pretend it never happened and say that it will have no affect or carries no indicator to what the season will bring. But neither do I want to pull my hair out and say that the poor game forecasts gloom and doom for the upcoming NFL season.

On the positive side (perhaps a slight rationalization, admittedly), you have to realize that it was preseason and the players don't get up for the game. The Bears played miserably in their first preseason game, their new qb played poorly in that preseason opener, they were coming back to play before their own fans and consequently were motivated to play well in that environment. The Giants, on the other hand, played well in their first preseason game, went on the road and were probably somewhat complacent coming into the game, or at least not highly motivated. In fact,the Giants had a very short rest between the Monday night game and a Saturday night game. Think about it - Giants had a Monday night game, were off on Tuesday, and had only Wednesday and Thursday to do some light preparation and practicing for the game, because they had to travel on Friday. There is no game planning or film review of the opponents for preseason and so teams tend to play very vanilla, work on things and trying out their players. Bears were much more motivated and played more physically than the Giants at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The real bad part was that the Giants OL could not pass block the Bears attacking aggressive front 7. Therefore, aside from looking bad, Giants did not get a chance to work on their passing game. I think the Giants have a good OL and they will play better during the season. Look for Coughlin to read this team the riot act and try to get a better effort against the Jets.

The other bad news, however, is that the Giants may get off to a slow start to this season until things come together and the first two games against Redskins and Cowboys could be difficult.

If you want to be really pessimistic, you could say that the league has found an achilles heel of the Giants OL and offense. If you are very physical with them, come upfield against them on every play, pass or run, they can't handle it as currently constructed. (That was a hypothesis, not a declarative assertion.) We'll see. Giants will have to be able to handle this kind of defensive game plan. Typically you beat this kind of defense with quick slants to WRs and with screens and swing passes to the backs. You hope that the WR breaks a tackle in that slant and makes a big play. Alternatively, in the passing game, you could max protect with a TE and RB and try to spring someone long in 1-on-1 coverage. Either way, it requires the emergence of a WR corps that is a threat and an OL that can stand up to aggressive defensive scheme.

In the running game against constant blitzes and upfield charges, you run traps or try to get to the perimeter before the upfield run blitz can stop you. I would think the Giants OL can handle this, because with the athletic G's on the OL, Giants are a very good trapping team.

I tend to be realistic; Giants OL is good, though not quite as good as everyone thinks. They need to step up and play better. Giants need to have the WR group improve also, but I don't believe the Bears game is an indication of the kind of football Giants will play this year.

The thing I am really sick about is the Alford injury. I mentioned in earlier posts that I have always been an Alford fan and that I predicted big things for him. He was having a great camp, he was in the best shape of his life and he was ready to fulfill the potential that I thought he had. Then he sprained his MCL and partially tore his ACL also. This is not good. The Giants said he would be out only two weeks, but I don't believe it. I think the injury may be more serious and he will be out longer, if not the entire season. If this is true, it opens the door for another DL-man to squeeze onto the roster. We'll see how that develops. Tollefson played pretty well Saturday night.

As well as Boothe and Reyes, the reserve OG's played against the Panthers last week in place of starters Seubert and Snee, they were awful against the Bears. But I won't single them out, nobody blocked well. Bears did a lof stunts and blitzed a bit. Giants simply did not switch effectively and pick up this scheme. Let's see how the coaches clean things up next week.

I remain very high on Mario Manningham. He is so quick.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Giants: Preseason game v. Panthers

Football is back
I went to the game last night and as much as the game itself was the draw, the return to the familiar sights, sounds, smells and protocols surrounding the game was almost as much fun. The promises from the Giants that there are new traffic patterns in the roads around the stadium to ease the traffic and the parking crunch, were followed by sitting in traffic in the stadium roads, same as in previous years. I got to exit 16W a little after 7PM and was finally parked at 7:30. Of course, I had to take a spot where some tailgaters were taking two spots and eating next to their car (like I said - familiar protocols of the game). We went into the stadium and the crack security team at the gate failed to notice that I was carrying a case with my binoculars in it and passed me right through. Another familiar sight was the propensity of some Giants fun to drink a tad too much, especially for night games, when there is more time to get lubricated. The group sitting next to us was particularly rowdy and noisy, though not impolite. In the 2nd half they moved their seats from our row immediately to our left, to about 4 rows up, directly behind us. In the second half, one of them stood up, to get some more beer (or perhaps to go to the men's room and get rid of the beer they had already consumed). He was too drunk to remain upright and fell 3 rows straight down and smashed into the guys that were sitting one row above us. Yes football is back.

Game analysis

I have some brief morning after comments on the game. There were some good things to take out of this game and definitely some concerns as well. The Giants two starting G's, Snee and Seubert did not dress for the game last night because of minor injuries. Nevertheless the starting OL acquitted themselves very well. Boothe played at RG in place of Seubert and there was a rotation including Reyes and Koets manning the position. The pass blocking for this group was fine and the run blocking was at its usual superior level. If you were worried about the Giants running game taking a hit because of the loss of Derrick Ward to Tampa Bay as FA: don't. Bradshaw and Ware both looked as good, if not better than Ward. Bradshaw has a choppy, style that is hard to handle. He runs as hard as he can from the very first step he takes. He has the ability to see the field, to find a crease and cut at full speed, and seems to stop at times to read the defense, gets it to pause and then he explodes again, changing direction. He really knows how to finish his runs, pounding with great force into tacklers that seem to be bigger than he is. He showed this style on the 20 yard TD run when he cut to his right, assisted by an absolutely devastating block by reserve OL Tutan Reyes, and finished the run by making one DB miss and then running over another Carolina DB at about the 5 yd line for the TD. I had never seen Reyes before, but he looked great on that play and was solid the rest of the night.

The other positive to take out of this game is the other RB Danny Ware. He has a more conventional running style; very smooth compared to Bradhsaw's choppy style. He runs shoulders down and low compared to Bradhsaw's slightly more upright style and his moves and cuts are more subtle, but he is very effective. Last year Ward was considered a change of pace back, because he was a little quicker than Jacobs. This year, the change of style from Jacobs to Bradshaw and then to Ware is going to be more pronounced and I dare say, even more effective. The other good thing about Ware and Bradshaw is that they are both very good receivers coming out of the backfield. This is going to be important for the Giants, especially early in the year before the Giants WRs find their bearing. Brandon Jacobs even caught a pass last night.

The defense looked really good. Giants were missing their starting CBs, Webster and Ross because of minor injury and were also missing Canty and Robbins at DT. Don't worry about this defense. Osi was back and got a sack, beating pro-bowl LT Jordan Gross on a speed rush to the outside. Terrell Thomas, last year's 2nd round draft pick looked great. I try to be reserved in my praise and am not in the camp of "Giants rule", and "everyone on the Giants is great, everyone else stinks". So I use the "great" word judiciously; but, I am very high on Terrell Thomas - he looks like a star waiting to happen. He made a great play knocking down a pass in 1st qtr running stride to stride with the WR, stopped on a dime to defend the almost-impossible-to-defend back shoulder fade. I was very impressed. He looks extremely fluid running and very polished in his breaks and reads, staying with WRs.

I also liked what I saw from Stoney Woodson, the rookie DB. Of course he made the INT, but the ball was deflected right to him, and he did make a good catch. Mor eimportant that that one play was that he looks like he has good instincts, flowing to the ball and has good speed. He was also around the loose ball and may have been credited with one of the Giants fumble recoveries.

This is the first I have seen of Clint Sintim and I was really impressed. I didn't know what number he wore and when I saw 97 trot out onto the field and line up at LB, my first thought was - why is Kiwanuka lining up at LB?.... and it looks like he got bigger in the shoulders and a more defined body. When I put the binoculars on him, I saw that Kiwanuka switched to 94 and 97 was Sintim. What a great body type he has - he looks like a stud. He's good shedding blockers and is a good pass rusher. He looked like he ran fairly well also - if he can learn how to play in space and defend the pass, he will be a star.

I also liked what I saw from Maurice Evans at DE. Whereas I thought that Tollefson would be on the bubble, I now think he has almost no chance to make the team. The rookie FAs the Giants brought in all looked good; there is a ton of talent in that DL. Giants better enjoy it now, because when some of the better ones become FA's there's no way they will be able to retain them all.

The questionable news is at the WR position. There is definitely a lot of talent there. Among the new WRs, Manninham and Moss show great quickness and explosiveness out of their cuts. Barden and Nicks look talented. But there's a big difference between being productive on the practice field, where everyone is running at 3/4 speed, and doing it in a game where the opponent is trying to win, not just work on their technique. The new guys all caught a ball and ran their routes well, but there was not much separation and guys were not wide open down the field. The sub qbs were not releasing the ball quickly and that could be part of the problem. Eli hit Manningham on a beautiful curl that got called back because of penalty, so maybe there is a little hope. The INT that was charged to Woodson is a perfect example of the difference between practice play and game play. Barden ran a route that took him to the right sideline. The protection broke down, Woodson broke the pocket and ran to his right, looking down field. Barden just stood still drifting a few steps to his left. Woodson tried to fit the ball in - a typical rookie mistake - and it was picked off. Woodson should not have thrown the ball, but Barden, when the qb broke the pocket, had to either turn and run down field, or come back to the qb. Also, when the ball was thrown, Barden did not come back and attack the ball, he kind of waited for it to arrive. Rookie mistakes. I am confident that Giants coaches will be able to tutor their players, but whether they develop in time to make this a great season, or whether WR productivity will be a problem all season long remains to be seen.

More stuff in a couple of days when I get to review the game in some more detail.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Giants: Training Camp VI

I have heard neither hide nor hair about the TE position this training camp. You barely hear about plays they make or don't, about who's progressing and who's not. Perhaps this is somewhat expected, because the focus in the 7-on-7 passing drills is always the WRs and the timing for the backs coming out of the backfield, less on the more mundane TE routes. This may be particularly true for the Giants this year. With all the young and untested WRs in camp, they are trying to get the timing down between QB and WR and hoping to find a WR or two to emerge as an exceptional player to replace Burress and Toomer.

In the TE unit, returning from last year's team are Kevin Boss, blocking TE Michael Matthews and pass catching TE Darcy Johnson. The Giants added draftee Travis Beckum from Wisconsin who they were very excited about. They said he could be acting as an H-back, lining up in the backfield and that he has exceptional speed for a guy his size. He was nicked up in the spring practice sessions and missed some time, but he has real potential. Michael Matthews is the big blocking TE and Boss is cemented in as the solid starter, which means that there could be some competition between Darcy Johnson and Beckum for a roster spot. That doesn't bode well for Johnson.

Other chatter
The Giants late round CB draft choices, Stoney Woodson and DeAndre Wright, have made an impression in camp, especially Woodson. He has great speed and jumping ability. They may be competing with each other for a roster spot, depending on how many CBs the Giants take onto the final roster. If Woodson turns out to be a player, the DB-field may be a real strength of this Giants defense. As chocked full of talent as the DL appears to be, the DB-field may be the heart of the defense. Corey Webster has become a top CB, Aaron Ross is solid on the other side, they have depth in Dockery and Terrell Thomas and a playmaker at the S position in Phillips. They've got to do it on the field, but on paper, this looks like a great defense. The fact that Sheridan is taking over the defense could be a real plus. Although Spagnuolo did a great job as DC, the defensive philosophy he installed is still here. Sheridan was a discuiple of Spagnuolo as he has been here for two years. He is a professional coach, he has coached the LBs, which is important, because the LBs are the on-the-field coaches. He has a close relationship with Antonio Pierce who calls the plays on the field and is almost like the QB of the defense. I foresee no dropoff in the defense. In fact, some different ideas, variations and looks installed by the new coach could make opposing defenses uncomfortable and give them something to adjust to that the defense hasn't done in the last few years.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Giants: Training Camp V

Footbal Analysts
It's really quite humorous to read the experts analyze the Giants team and training camp activity. You read the beat writers reports in the various papers and their blogs and you wonder if the "journalist" in paper 1 is actually reporting on the same team that writer in paper 2 or 3 is talking about. First, you see Gary Meyers, the super NFL reporter of the NY Daily News bashing the Giants for the awful planning and team construction at spending $100M on a franchise qb and not going out and getting him a pro bowl caliber WR to throw to. Then you have reporters in other papers talking glowingly about how the WRs are showing their stuff. And still other papers, saying that Mario Manningham has been a disappointment, while another paper grades Manningham as having stepped up his game and having a great camp.

My analysis of the analysts? They don't have a freaking clue. They go to a practice and see a WR catch a ball and they think he's great. They see him drop one, they think he stinks. That's it. They don't have the insight to see if the route was run crisply, if the cut was rounded or squared, if separation was made between the WR and DB, if the ball thrown well or poorly, if the WR is using his speed or is still unconfident in his routes. For that kind of information, you need to wait for my reports. I haven't made a trip up to camp yet, but I am going to the preseason game Monday night and I hope I will have some good stuff for you then.

As far as Gary Meyers, he has absolutely no clue. He had Eli dead and buried after the Viking game in 2007. He labeled him a complete and utter failure and because of that the Giants franchise was in a state of total disrepair that would take them five years to dig out of. Perhaps you recall that the Giants actually won the Superbowl that year, Eli won the MVP and last year Eli continued to develop as one of the best qb's in football. Meyers is the journalist's version of Chicken Little, the sky is always falling.

QB's in NY
Actually, this reminds of another story that I'd like to recount here; permit me to wax somewhat nostalgic. I was at an exciting mid-season football game at Giants Stadium, around 20 years ago, where our beloved team was playing the hated Cowboys after having beaten the hated Redskins at home the week before. (Don't ask me how I remember that detail, I just do). The game was very close and the Giants, with our LT-led defense hanging on, relied on the strength of a great running effort by Joe Morris, won the game by a FG (I think the final score was 17-14 but don't quote me on that one.) Offensively, Giants used a two-TE formation and power running game to amass yards. Joe Morris had around 150 or 175 yards rushing but the Giants threw the ball very conservatively, as they often did under Parcells, and they did not throw the ball effectively. The Giants victory raised their record to 6-2 and it was a gratifying win. I remember walking out of the stadium after the game pumped up about the exciting win and the prospects of the team. I overheard a couple of fans behind me discussing the game and saying: "Our running game and defense are both good and we won today, but we're not going anywhere with that bum at qb".

Punchline: the qb they were talking about was Phil Simms and the year was 1986.

I actually think that Eli gets underrated in the press, both locally and nationally. Largely, I think it is because he does not put up huge numbers like some of the other qbs, but there are so many other factors that go into statistics that none of the analysts take into account. The main thing, in my opinion, that determines the record of the team, the statistics that a team/qb put up and the consequent recognition they get in the press is so obvious that everyone should figure it out: quality of opponent. A team wins a game because it is better than the opponent. It doesn't mean that they are a good team if they win, it just means that they are good relative to the opponent they played. The NFC East has been, for the entire time that Eli has been playing for the Giants, the best division in football, with particularly strong defenses on every team. In the last 4 years, the NFC East has twice placed 2 teams in the playoffs and twice placed 3 teams in the playoffs. More importantly, all of these teams have rugged, powerful, attacking defenses that consistently finished in the top 8 defenses of the league. I am not whining for Eli, but when you compare that schedule to the watered down AFC West, NFC West or the AFC East of the last several years, you can see why other teams records and qb numbers might look better. If you add the factor that Eli plays in the winds of Giants stadium, does not play in a dome or relative calm weather of west coast, and plays on a power-running offense, you can see why his numbers may be less than spectacular. I am thrilled to have Eli as the qb of the Giants and am confident he is going to be successful over the next several years, taking the team where it wants to go.

Training Camp
Back to the WRs in camp. Finally a few sports writers picked up on my post of a few weeks ago and there were headlines saying that Tyree would probably not make the team. Actually, the situation looks more grim for Tyree than I thought earlier, because in addition to the 6 WRs that are locks to make the team (Smith, Hixon, Moss, Manningham, Nicks and Barden) a 7th WR has emerged who is playing very well in camp, Derek Hagan. He is quick, can catch the ball and has decent speed. Tyree is not having a great camp with an assortment of drops and some minor injuries causing him to miss a practice here or there. Most threatening to Tyree's tenure on the team is the fact that Hagan is an outstanding ST player. The ability to excel on ST was Tyree's X-factor, his hidden asset that might give him an advantage to make the team. But if Hagan is a good ST player and is younger, faster and stronger than Tyree, this advantage is mitigated.

My feeling on the WRs is that a few of them will step up and become quality NFL WRs. We keep hearing that Gilbride has tweaked the passing offense to make it more compatible to the WRs that are on the team. I hope that's right and I can't wait to see for myself.

Fred Robbins is off PUP and is back practicing. This is a huge and somewhat unexpected development. Maybe Robbins makes it back into the mix and contributes in his contract year. Giants will rotate DL-men all season and will have fresh, hungry players eager to show they deserve more playing time on every snap. I think Jay Alford is ready for a step forward and will become a very good NFL DT. Rocky Bernard is still on NFI and I am puzzled what will happen there. Clint Sintim is having a great camp and will be a 10 year NFL starter at LB.

Mike Waufle is licking his chops waiting for the season to start and rotating in all the talent on the DL. Giants have even experimented with a 5-man DL in camp, which will be impossible to run on. This alignment requires very good DBs to cover up for fewer guys in pass coverage. Kenny Phillips is going to be a star; his instincts and his flat out speed running sideline to sideline, is probably one of the factors that makes that formation possible.

Terrel Thomas, last year's 2nd round draft choice is apparently really progressing at DB. I thought he played very well last year and he seems to be continuing to progress. He is pushing Dockery for the nickel job, but even if he doesn't win it, he will get lots of playing time this year. In baseball, they say you can never have enough starting pitchers. In football, you can never have enough pass rushers or great DBs.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Giants: Training Camp Analysis

In one of my previous blog posts analyzing the competition for the reserve OL positions, I said that determining who made the team depended greatly on who emerged as the backup C and who was going to be the primary backup at the G position. First indications are that the Giants are trying to get Koets to be backup C and Tutan Reyes will be the first backup at G. When O'Hara took a break at C, Koets was taking reps. Of course, he fumbled 3 qb exchanges, so maybe that's not such a good sign for Koets. But, Koets is a natural T and playing more than one position is crucial for a reserve OL-man.

Seubert hurt his shoulder and had to come off the field for a while. Tutan Reyes went in and was taking the snaps with the starting offense. If that arrangement holds(Koets backup C, Reyes backup G, Beatty LT of the future) Boothe and Whimper could be on the outside looking in. If the Giants decide to carry 9 OL-men, one of those two could sneak onto the final roster, probably Whimper.

The surprise of training camp was not that Boley and Robbins were put on the PUP list, which we predicted here, but that Rocky Bernard was put on the NFI (non football injury) list. He apparently had a hamstring injury that got worse in the last 5 weeks. I am not sure what this means - if it is just positional by the Giants to prepare for any eventuality, depending on his progress recovering from this injury. Alternatively, it could somehow shows that the Giants are ticked off at Bernard for not taking care of himself after the conclusion of the off-season conditioning program at Giants Stadium. Maybe they are having second thoughts about signing him to that FA contract.Continuing with this logic, perhaps they will see who progresses best from the off season injury - Bernard or Robbins - keep one and release the other. There are some technical/contractual and legal difficulties with releasing a FA before the season starts, which may be why they put him on NFI. That probably gives the Giants some more leeway to take what will surely be seen as a peculiar action of cutting a FA before he has gotten a chance to suit up for the team. The good news at DT is that Cofield was practicing with no limitations. Giants are being cautious and not letting him practice twice a day, but he seems to be doing well after his surgery.

I know it's only the first day of training camp and it's way too early to draw conclusions and make final predictions, but if injuries and other factors do not get in the way, I am finding it less and less likely that Superbowl hero David Tyree will make the final roster. Clearly, he is the 7th best WR on the team. Veterans Smith, Hixon, Moss, Mannigham, and rookies Nicks and Barden are clearly ahead of Tyree and are pretty well guaranteed to make the team. That means that Tyree's best chance to make the team would be to get a "special exemption" as a ST player. But consider the following: last year the Giants carried 6 CBs, two of whom were older players that did not play on ST, Sam Madison and RW McQuarters. (RW occasionally returned punts, but I'm talking about ST, not one of the returners.) Because of the departure of those two, the Giants will add at least two (perhaps three) CBs. The depth chart at CB now looks like: Corey Webster, Aaron Ross, Kevin Dockery and last year's rookie surprise, Terrell Thomas. Giants have several CBs in camp, including some late round draftees from the 2009 draft. It is possible that the Giants may pick up a CB for depth or experience that is cut from another team, but it is extremely likely that whomever is chosen for these open two spots will be young, athletic and fast AND will be a good ST player. That could greatly reduce the probability that Tyree will stand out as a special (sic) ST player and may limit greatly his chances of making the team.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Giants: Training Camp Preview - IV

Offensive Line

There will be some very close and interesting competition in the OL this year. You might scoff at that statement, because the Giants have what is reputed to be one of the best OL's in football. The starting positions on the OL are all but locked down: Diehl (LT) Seubert (LG), Pro bowler O'Hara (C), Pro bowler Snee (RG) and MacKenzie (RT). The interesting battles will be for the backup positions. Last year the Giants carried 8 OL-men, with the substitutes behind these 5 starters Grey Ruegamer, Adam Koets and Kevin Boothe. Guy Whimper showed some promise and potential in the Super Bowl year of 2007, but was on IR last year and did not take up a roster spot. I hope you recall - Whimper had a strong game at LT when Diehl went out with leg cramps in the 4th quarter of the opening playoff game against Tampa Bay. Whimper played very strongly on the big drive that started with a converted 3rd down on the last play of the 3rd qtr and took about 10 minutes off the clock, ending in a TD and 24-7 lead for the Giants. That drive essentially iced the game for the Giants and Whimper played in that stretch, blocking fiercely for the run and protecting Eli's blind side well in the passing game.

Last year, Ruegamer was a very effective backup and a very important player for the Giants. He was both a backup of O'Hara at C and could play either G position as well. That gave the Giants great flexibility and they did not necessarily dress all 8 OL-men every Sunday because of the flexibility he provided. Now Ruegamer is gone and the Giants have to figure out the reserve situation; particularly because they do not have a natural backup C on the team. Seubert was taking some snaps at C as was Koets. If Seubert proves to be the most effective answer as the backup C, it could push Koets off the team entirely. The Giants have the following players fighting for the 3 reserve OL positions: William Beatty, 2nd round draft choice from U-Conn, Adam Koets, Kevin Boothe, Guy Whimper and veteran FA pickup Tutan Reyes. Since Beatty was a high draft choice and is the designated LT of the future, he will surely make the team, which leaves the other 4 players to battle out for 2 reserve spots.

In backup action last year, Boothe was adequate. He has average speed and size, but can fill in at both G and T which gives him an advantage. Whimper is a T and has not really played any other positions on the OL, so he will have to show excellent skills to make the team. If Seubert emerges as the backup center, that could give Whimper more of a shot. But it does mean that if O'Hara goes down with an injury and Seubert takes over his spot, two starting OL-men will be displaced from their normal spots on the OL which could be disruptive. Tutan Reyes is an unknown quantity. Clearly he was brought in because the Giants want to see if his experience will be useful behind the young reserves that the Giants will have on the team. Reyes would not have signed with the Giants if he did not have a strong indication that he had a good chance to make the team, which means that Whimper, Koets and Boothe are in a very tough battle for roster spots.

The best configuration would be to have Beatty as a backup LT and RT, Koets as backup C and T and Reyes backup both G positions. That means that Whimper and Boothe do not make the team. If possible to carry an extra OL-man, depending on roster spots elsewhere, I would keep Whimper as the 9th OL-man.

Giants: Nicks signs, players report

Hakeem Nicks Signs

Hakeem Nicks, Giants first round draft choice that showed so much promise in the off season conditioning program and organized team activities this spring signed with the Giants late Saturday night. He reported today, Sunday and will be ready to go when practice begins tomorrow Monday August 3rd. With the departure of both starting WRs from last year's team, the WR position is wide open. The top 6 WRs will probably make the team, but fighting for playing time and finding someone who will emerge as a deep threat is very important for the players in this unit. Giants have not had a great track record with rookie WRs in the last several years. Moss and Manningham missed a lot of time their rookie years and in the case of Moss did not get on the field much in the succeeding years. The one rookie WR who did have an impact in his rookie year was Steve Smith, but he missed 11 games in the Superbowl year of 2007, before coming on and having a big impact in the last few games of the the year and in the playoffs. It was particularly important for Nicks to get in on time, to avoid the injury bug that has hit the Giants WRs in the last few years and to compete for playing time.

Nicks showed the ability to go deep in the spring practice and Giants coaches are very high on him. If Nicks or Barden really steps up and shows ability to succeed early on, maybe Moss becomes trade bait. A few years ago, the Giants traded Ryan Grant to the Packers when he showed real ability, but the Giants were overstocked at RB with Jacobs, Bradshaw and Ward. Maybe the same situation exists at WR, if Nicks and/or Barden really show something. You'd like to carry 6 WRs on the team, but rarely more than 5 get any quality playing time. We'll see.