Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Giants: More Tampa Game review

You wouldn't think that we could find that much of interest in a somewhat boring 24-0 crushing of the Buccaneers, but here goes with some random observations:

I said that the Giants game plan on offense was to be conservative and control the clock to protect the thin Giants DL, since they dressed only 6 full time DL-men with Tuck as the designated pass rusher. I think I was only partially right - I looked at the game again and I think they were protecting the safeties more than the DL-men. Giants only dressed 3 safeties but one of them was Rouse, who they signed midweek from the Packers after putting Kenny Phillips on the IR. From what I could see, Rouse did not get on the field, so they played only 2 S and surely were thinking about protecting them more than the DL.

Because there were always 2 S on the field and only 3 CBs dressed, Giants never had 6 DBs on the field and always had 2 LBs out there. With Boley's mobility and pass coverage skills, it hardly mattered. Of course, to be completely honest, Tampa Bay has very weak WRs and a terrible QB in Leftwich, so we can't take too much out of that. Still.... Boley looks like a real good pickup for the Giants.

Couglin always prods injured players to get out of the trainer's room and back on the field. (Frankly I think this is stupid and I would prefer the injury heals completely before the player practices and plays again... this may have led to Canty's calf injury, if he practiced before his hammy completely healed.) Anyway - Coughlin is prodding his CBs Ross and Dockery to get back on the practice field, no doubt because he wants to shore up the DB-field and doesn't ever want to go into a game with only 5 legitimate DB's. Maybe by next week, Rouse will have picked up some more of the playbook and will be available to contribute a little bit.

I have said in the past that the Giants OL was very good, but not as great as everyone has made them out to be, with many experts knighting them as the best in football. My assessment of them was that they were outstanding blockers in the running game and very-good-but-not-great in pass protection. I know it's only 3 games, but in my judgment, the pass blocking seems much improved this year over last year. Cowboys, whose defense is predicated on pass rush, didn't bother Eli much. Redskins back in game 1 only bothered Eli a little bit, once when they were permitted to grab his face mask with impunity. Even Tampa Bay, while we can admit that they are an awful team, still has a good DL and didn't come near Eli.

Speaking of Eli - I know I have been a big supporter of his for a long time - maybe at a point in his career where he wasn't completely deserving of it, but he is playing outstanding football. His passes are crisp, sharp and extremely accurate. His decision making is excellent. His leadership is inspiring to his teammates. His control of the game is superior, though this part of his game was always excellent.

We were all obsessing about how the Giants passing offense would be without Burress and Toomer this year but we can assert that the passing game is clearly superior to what it was last year, even before Burress went out with his gun wound. I am not ready to commission sculpting busts of Smith, Manningham, Hixon et. al. to send to Canton quite yet. I am not even ready to compare them and make them superior to other WR groups on other NFL teams. I am going to assert something else, however: maybe we were overrating Burress and Toomer all these years.

Burress was big, had good hands and certainly was difficult to defend because of his size. But he was not fast, not particularly quick, rather was more of a physical receiver. When he got downfield, he didn't need to be wide open and have a lot of separation to catch the ball because of his size and wingspan. But this meant that there were no easy throws for Eli. Every deep ball had to be placed perfectly on the outside, on the back shoulder, down low, wherever Plax was to take advantage of body positioning. And at least partly because of this, there were no YAC yards at all.

I am not even going to talk about Toomer, because it is quite obvious in retrospect that he was a marginal NFL caliber receiver, dating back to at least the middle of 2008. Toomer was the possession receiver complementing Burress as the speed guy. The problem is that Burress was not a speed guy and Toomer dropped way too many balls to be considered a possession receiver. In 2007, Giants led the league in dropped passes and they were up there in 2008 also, with Toomer one of the main offenders.

Look at some of the catches Steve Smith has come up with already in 2009. He made a sideline catch against Tampa as the first reception of the game that Toomer could never make in his entire career because of the superior body control that Smith has. And Manningham made several big plays with YAC yards that Burress just couldn't make. Eli threw a quick slant to Manningham in the Tampa game that Mario turned into a 15 yard gain. Two step drop, short throw, high completion percentage, 15 yards, 10 after the catch that the WRs could not have gotten last year. Add to that the stable of substitutes that are on the team now: Nicks, Hixon and Moss (though the latter two were on the team last year) ; and I think the WR corps is far superior to what the Giants had in 2008.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Giants: Review of Tampa Bay game

Sometimes, when your team dominates the team lining up against them, you come away from the game and say: "wow, we're really good". This weekend against Tampa Bay, the domination was so complete on both sides of the football, that we honestly have to walk away from the game and say: "wow, they really stink". This just might be one of those rare instances, where you recognize the weakness in the opponent rather than the strength of your favorite team. The domination was at the line of scrimmage, and down the field. On offense and on defense. In the passing game and in the running game. The Buccaneers didn't make a play all day long and the only time they ventured onto the Giants side of the field, it was because of a gift pass interference penalty called against Bruce Johnson. Giants moved the ball on the ground, in the air and did not even attempt a deep pass all day. I think they played conservatively and tried to eat clock on offense in order to protect the thin defensive line and keep them off the field. That plan worked, obviously, because the Giants had 43 minutes of possession. I said that the Giants would not want to come into the game with only 6 DL-men dressed, and they didn't. They dressed Justin Tuck as a backup 7th DL-man but he played only on 3rd and long situations. Frankly, I thought this was an imprudent risk to take with the best player on defense, but the Giants lucked out and he came out of the game unhurt; Tuck played only 8 snaps.

Eli wasn't as sharp as he was against the Cowboys, but he didn't need to be. He played well enough to win; Eli gets it in gear when the game is on the line. It's hard to say that a $100M QB could be underrated, but I contend he is. He doesn't get recognition for how good he's become and how much more of an accurate passer he is now than he was in his first two years in the league.

Back to the game...

I think I've made it clear that I don't love Kevin Gilbride. I don't think he's completely incompetent like those that have dubbed him "Killdrive"; I think he's a capable OC, but is less than brilliant and creative. But I do have to give him credit where it is due at reshaping the Giants passing game this year with the different personnel and different style of WR that are on the team now. Last year, the other thing that really aggravated me about his personnel usage is that he did not work the young substitutes into the game, he went totally with the starters. So when Plaxico went down, nobody was ready. This year even that seems to be different and he seems to be trying to get the young players in the game. As an example, let me break down one play that I liked on Sunday, a 24 yard pass to Boss in the 3rd quarter that set up the Giants FG. It was 1st and 15 from the Bucs 36. Giants got two TEs in the game, which they often do, this time it was Boss and Beckum. Usually, they line up on opposite sides of the line and have 1 WR split out on each side of the field. This time, they line both WRs on the right side of the offense and lined up Boss tight to the left and split the speedy Beckum out wide to the left. The Bucs were playing their base defense, 2-deep zone with 3 LBs in the game. Because the Giants had 2 WRs to the left, one S was locked up giving deep help on that side of the field. On the other side of the field, the Bucs decided to send their other CB to line up wide against the speedy Beckum, which means that Boss was lined up against a LB. Boss and Beckum ran seam routes and the S on that side of the field started to go to the sideline to give help on Beckum, especially because Eli looked the S off and was looking towards Beckum. Finally, Beckum cut off his route and pulled up to make more space for Boss. The S did not have time to get back and give the LB help on Boss and Eli hit him on a beautiful seam route for 24 yards over the LB. Probably if the S had stayed on Boss, he would have been the one to cut off his route and Beckum would have continued deep. It had all the components you're looking for from the OC: variation of the formation with two TEs on the same side of the field; getting the young TE in the game; getting a favorable matchup on the LB; perfect throw from the QB and nice catch by the TE.

I can not figure out why Sinorice Moss can't get on the field more. He must really be messing up in practice - because every time he gets into the game he makes big plays. He made a gorgeous catch on the TD pass from Eli and I think it was the first pass they threw to him this year. At least he's been on the field more this year. But mostly he has run clear out routes which is certainly effective with his great speed. He runs deep taking half the DB-field with him and it opens up the rest of the field.

McKenzie sprained his knee Sunday and Beatty acquitted himself quite well as a substitute. Boothe replaced Seubert who went out with a shoulder injury and did well also.

This game showed much better blocking success from the TEs in the running game. Darcy Johnson was active and Boss is really using his size effectively in run blocking.

Nice moment in the game Sunday: when the Giants defended the 4th and goal from the 5 yard line to preserve the shutout, DC Sheridan was seen smiling, more animated than I remember seeing him and he hugged his assistant coaches.

Everyone keeps dismissing this game because the Bucs are so bad. I agree that the Bucs are pretty bad, but they didn't look this inept in their first two games, so the domination had to at least have something to do with the strength of the Giants.

The other good news from this game is the emergence of three players on the defensive side of the ball. This was the best Fred Robbins has looked all year. He looked quick and strong and we can hope that his recovery from his knee surgery is moving along. Michael Boley looks great. He played well against the Cowboys, but couldn't play a full turn because it was his first game back and is probably not quite in game shape yet. But he looked great Sunday against the Bucs too. We knew he was fast, but I didn't think he was this aggressive and this good a tackler. He is good against the running game and plays very well in space. The third player that looks to have greatly improved is Kiwanuka. He looks like he bulked up a little bit in the off season. He is much more stout against the run and has not lost his quickness as a pass rusher. I am very encouraged by his play - he looks great.

Terrell Thomas continues to impress; he is an outstanding cover CB. Ross is a better tackler and gives better run support, but I am not sure Thomas should be removed from the starting lineup when Ross comes back, which he may this week. Dockery may come back this week also.

A note about the Cowboys: it's early, but my early season take on the Cowboys is that their WRs are rather ordinary, their passing game lacks a real deep threat and the big plays on offense comes from their running game, especially Felix Jones, who is a real blazer. After a few games, the league will figure out that they should defend the Cowboys the way everyone tried to defend the Giants when Burress went out and in the first two games of this year: stack the line of scrimmage against the running game, play their WR man-to-man with only a little help and make Romo beat you in the passing game.

Saints look dangerous. Brees is an excellent QB and they have always had a high octane offense. Now it seems that the Saints have a decent defense and that could make them real threat in the NFC. The game in week 6 against the Saints will be very interesting. After week 5, the Giants schedule gets very difficult with tough games seemingly every week.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Giants: Phillips on IR

This is a real bad injury for the Giants. Kenny Phillips was emerging as a star on defense, playing great both in the passing game as well as giving good run support. The last two years the Giants were lucky and did not have a lot of injuries, but perhaps the laws of chance are catching up to them this year with a ton of injuries on the defense. What makes this injury particularly bad is that the Giants did not come into the season with a "typical" distribution of players at each position group. Apparently, they went with a strategy of keeping the best athletes on the roster sacrificing balance and depth at some positions. They are very deep in the OL, the DL and LB, and are thin at S. The Giants came in to the season with only four safeties, one of them Bruce Johnson, who has been playing nickel-back because the injuries to Ross and Dockery shortened the CB rotations. With those 2 CBs out, it means that the Giants had only 3 S on the roster and now are down to 2: C.C. Brown and Michael Johnson. They absolutely have to sign a S and add him to the roster. In fact with depth at LB and WR, maybe the Giants will make a trade for a starting S from some other team instead of picking one off of the scrap heap of released players.

Recent safeties that have been released are: Jamaal Fudge from the Falcons and Aaron Rouse from the Packers. I don't know much about Jamaal Fudge, but Rouse has been in the league for 3 years and has played a little bit. Maybe the Giants talk Rodney Harrison out of retirement (jk).

Giants: Looking back, looking ahead

Wow... everybody is dumping on Tony Romo for having such a bad game against NYG. Leave poor little Tony alone. For one thing, they are attacking him for having a completion percentage of below 50%; he was 13-29. They're idiots and they have no idea what mathematics and statistics are about !! If you include the 3 passes he completed to Giants players, (2 to Phillips and 1 to Johnson) he actually completed 16 of his 29 passes, which is above 50%.

Even TO got into the act beating up on Tony Romo. He tweeted on his twitter account that "it seems like Dallas has a TR problem, not a TO problem". Way to go TO. What happened to: "Sniff, that's not fair. Sniff, sniff, he's my teammate. Snif, sniff, sniff, he's my quarterback".

Looks like Tuck will not play this weekend, which is certainly the prudent course of action. Nobody wants to turn a sprained shoulder, stretched labrum, 2 week injury into a completely torn labrum and a much worse injury. But with Canty already out, that means the Giants would be dressing only 6 DL-men for the game this Sunday, something they surely do not want to do. It would mean that Rocky Bernard is the only reserve DT and Dave Tollefson is the only reserve DE. That's just too thin, especially going into the heat and humidity of Tampa in September.

There are only two alternatives that I can think of. If Clint Sintim's groin is healed, they may give him some work at DE, since he did play with his hand on the ground in college at Virginia. He is a good pass rusher and is fairly strong against the run. Giants have been using him as LB, so this has some risks, but it could be a temporary stopgap. Kiwanuka can take some snaps at DT in passing situations to give the DTs a rest, but that doesn't relieve the overall shortage of DL-men.

The Giants don't really have another LB that is big enough to step in and play DL, so the only other alternative seems to be to sign another player as DT temporarily, eg. Leger Douzable who was cut just a week ago. The problem with signing a player, of course, is that it means that the Giants would have to cut another player from the roster. I am not sure who would go, but it would be a loss. LB Wilkinson played pretty well in his limited time against the Cowboys and it would be a pity to cut a serviceable NFL player and a real good athlete. Working against Wilkinson might be the fact that Boley looked really good at LB and the Giants may feel that they have the most depth at that position. Maybe they trade Wilkinson.

Another thought is to trade or cut Sinorice Moss if they sign a DT. Let's be honest about Moss. He came into camp as the 3rd WR behind Hixon and Smith. It's pretty clear that Manningham and rookie Nicks have surpassed him on the depth chart and are the 3rd and 4th WRs. Even Derek Hagan was in the game at crunch time last week, during the winning FG drive. So even though I hate to trade the fastest guy on the team, it certainly seems like he's expendable. Short term, getting rid of a WR now may not be such a good idea, because Hixon has a sprained knee and Nicks is still out, so they may be a little short at WR and want to keep Moss active for now. That may make Wilkinson more vulnerable.

The papers are already locking Giants in to be 5-0 after the next 3 winnable games. I hate when they do that. Got to play them one at a time and focus on the next opponent. At least Coughlin keeps saying to the press and to his team, that "we just have to win the next one". Former Giants coach Jim Fassel used to fall into this all the time. He used to look at the next several games coming up on the schedule and say stuff like.... if we want to get into the playoffs, we have to win 4 of the next 6, or whatever he thought was required. He would also say things like "this week's game is a classic trap game for us". All those things diverted attention from his team on looking at the upcoming opponent as dangerous or at the upcoming game as really important. The thought that was planted in the player's heads was that if they lose this week, they can come back and win next week, because they only have to win 4 out of 6. And if this is a trap game, it must mean that the Giants are much better than the opponent, so preparation might be a little softer. Giants are better than their upcoming opponents, but they could easily stub their toe in one of these games, especially against the Raiders, who look improved to me.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Giants: More Cowboys stuff

A few more notes about the Cowboys game....

The Giants were gashed by the Cowboys running game and gave up 251 yards rushing. It's hard to imagine a team giving up that many rushing yards and still winning the game, but the Giants did it. Of course, Romo sharing the ball so nicely with the visitors wearing the blue uniforms was very hospitable of him and was one of the reasons that the Giants won. To tell you the truth, that other Manning had a similar experience on Monday night football, when his Colts gave up 239 yards rushing and 45 minutes of possession time to the Dolphins and still won the game. Another similarity is that the Colts won on a 4th quarter drive led by their QB.

When I was watching the game live and when I reviewed the game initially, it looked to me like there were several plays where the Giants were just physically dominated by a bigger Cowboy OL. But I heard Carl Banks say that the Giants were very undisciplined in their gap and lane control. They overpursued, each player trying to do too much by themselves and that is what allowed the Cowboys to make their big plays. After I heard that, I went back to the game and watched it again and I think Banks is absolutely right. Osi was the biggest culprit, constantly overcommitting and charging too hard to the ball, leaving wide cutback lanes open. If Sheridan and Waufle are good coaches, they will address this and correct it in the coming weeks. Bucs are not a good team, but have a good running attack, so this week will be a good indicator.

One more thing about the run defense - we know the Giants are good run stoppers; that has been a core of their defense for the last 2 years (at least). The DTs are strong and the DEs are quick enough to avoid the blockers and make plays. The DTs may have slowed down a bit, but the Cowboys ran on the outside, not over the DTs. I am hopeful that the coaches will get this fixed.

There's another way to look at the poor run defense against the Cowboys and forgive me in advance for boring you with some statistics, but in this case they may be instructive. When you think of a defense that gets beaten badly on the ground, you assume that the opponents were constantly ripping off gains of 5-6-7 yards; that the defense was constantly crushed by an overpowering OL; that they rarely stopped any plays for no gain. This past weekend, the Cowboys gained 251 yards on 29 rush attempts for an average of 8.7 yards and you would certainly think that fits the profile of Giants not stopping any running plays. However, that was certainly not the case. The fact is that the Cowboys hit on a few huge plays in the running game which greatly inflated their running yards, but the Giants did a decent job on many other running plays. Here's the data that supports that claim:

The Cowboys had 5 rushing attempts that were greater than 20 yards, one of them the big 56 yard run by Felix Jones. Of these 5 rushing plays, the Cowboys gained a total of 162 of their rushing yards. That is really impressive, but it means that on the other 24 rushing attempts, the Cowboys gained 89 yards for an average of 3.7 yards per carry. Furthermore, the Cowboys had 9 rushing attempts of 3 yards or less including 6 for no gain or a loss. So 17% of the Cowboys rushing attempts yielded 64% of their yards and the other 83% of their rushing attempts were kept at a very manageable number by the Giants defense. I am not trying to revise history and say that the Giants run defense was great Sunday night except for a few lucky plays by the Cowboys. The Giants definitely have some work to do in order to improve the run defense. I am just saying that the statistics reveal that the Giants made some good plays in the rush defense and have the raw materials to be a good defense against the run.

Here's a question for all Giants fans and Cowboys haters. (I know that last identification was redundant... all Giants fans are Cowboys haters.) What would you rather see happen to the Cowboys this year, the year that Jerry Jones opens up his new stadium? The reflex non-thinking man's answer would be to see the Cowboys suffer ignominy this year, finish 7-9 and not come near making the playoffs. I tend to disagree, as that would bring only momentary satisfaction for Giants fans. I am more interested in seeing the Cowboys descend into a slow long decline covering several years of losing football. The best way to accomplish this is to see the Cowboys finish about 10-6, sneak into the playoffs as a wildcard, maybe even win a playoff game and then lose before they get to the NFC conference championship game. The reason this is a better scenario for the Giants is that with a playoff victory under his (extremely large) belt, Wade Phillips would probably get rehired by Jerry Jones. My contention is that nothing is better for the Giants than having old Wade Phillips stay in Dallas for a few years. He may be a decent coordinator, but he is a terrible HC and it says here that the Cowboys never reach the promised land with him as coach. If the Cowboys go 7-9 or 6-10 this year, Jerry Jones hires Mike Shanhan or Mike Holmgren as coach next year and maybe they turn things around. Go Wade. Go 'Boys.

I posted this last year, but it's worthwhile to remind everyone of the Giants-Phillips connection in NFL history. Wade Phillips' father Bum, was the coach of the New Orleans Saints who drafted George Rogers, South Carolina RB as the first pick in the 1981 draft. This let LT fall to the Giants with the second pick in the first round. BTW - Bum's QB at the time was Archie Manning, another curious connection. I am telling you people - we want Wade Phillips to stay as coach of the Cowboys as long as possible.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Giants: Cowboys game post mortem

This was a great win and it put the Giants in a great position in the division. Giants are the only team in the NFC East that is 2-0, both games intradivision wins. I am not going to go over the same old stuff you can read in the newspapers, but I am going to try to give it my analysis and slant.

Coming into the season, if you ask any of the experts and analysts who the better QB is, between Romo and Manning, 60% of them would say Romo is better. Of the other 40%, some would be undecided, but they would all agree that Romo has tremendous talent, occasional brilliance but makes mistakes and occasionally has bad games. But - he is brimming with ability and if he can harness it, he can be a star and be a Super Bowl caliber winning QB. They will also tell you that Eli has average talent, and while he has become more consistent than he was earlier in his career, he is not a playmaker or a great QB. Well I got news for them - Eli is so far ahead of Romo it isn't even close. If they were running a race, Eli would have lapped him by now. I am not saying that Romo stinks, he seems to have an NFL caliber arm, can scramble and improvise and is good at making plays outside of the pocket. But the reason that he has this reputation as a playmaker is that he has played his career with the best (or second best) WR of his generation and the best TE in football, behind a mammoth OL that lets him sit back there for days picking out a target. Perhaps more important for his reputation is this aura that he has - the infectious smile, the boyish good looks, knowing exactly what to say to the press to appear humorous, confident, yet humble at the appropriate times. Mostly, there is the great story of where he came from and how he got here - small school, Eastern Illinois, undrafted, found on the scrap heap by legendary coach Parcells, fights his way to be the starting QB for America's team - it's a great story. My advice -make a movie out of this story, but give me Eli as my qb any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

The problem Eli has in getting the recognition he deserves as the 4th best QB in football (behind only Peyton, Brady and Brees) is that everyone likes to take first impressions, put them in a box, tie a neat ribbon around it and never take the trouble to evaluate again. Eli in his first year or two had mechanical flaws throwing the ball. Everyone says he was throwing off his back foot, which led to innacuracy and some occasionally ugly, wobbly passes. That's not what it was, but without going into the details of Eli's early flawed mechanics (I'll do this in another post later this week) suffice it to say that Eli's early difficulties branded him for life in the minds of many as a bad passer who got drafted because of his geneology rather than his talent. From 2007 on, his mechanics are sound and he looks like a different QB. Eli's passes no longer wobble, he throws tight spirals. He is no longer inaccurate, he throws a great deep ball, has great arm strength and great touch on the intermediate throws. But the first impression remains with many.

Sorry for going off topic - this was supposed to be about the Cowboys game Sunday night. My point is that Eli is a far superior QB to Romo and in some ways we saw a matchup between the most underrated QB in the league in Eli and the most overrated in Romo. I heard a quote from Parcells right before he left the Cowboys. He was asked if Romo will continue to mature and grow even after he (Parcells) leaves as coach. Parcells said that Romo would be fine if he remembered that he was a football player and didn't instead try to be a celebrity QB of America's team. I'm not sure Romo has followed this advice.

Speaking of Eli, the calm demeanor he has and the consequent repeated success he has had at leading game winning 4th quarter drives gives the team complete confidence that he will do it every time they are in that situation,. This makes them calm, allows them to perform at their highest level and therefore makes it more likely that they will in fact succeed. One of the OL-men was asked what Eli said in the huddle when they were 2nd and 20 with about 3 minutes left in Dallas. The OL-man said: he looked Seubert in the eyes (who had been penalized for the phantom holding call), then glanced around the huddle to everyone and simply said: "Everybody be calm, we've been here before, you know what to do". The OL-man added that everyone in the huddle was completely confident that he would lead them down the field. That's the QB I want leading my team.

Back to the game....

If we were worried about seeing if any Giants WRs would step up and become playmaking threats, we can probably relax. Manningham looks like a star in the making. I have been touting Manningham for a long time on this blog and Eli himself announced that he was particuarly high on the ex-Wolverine all through the preseason, even when he had some dropped balls. I am still high on Nicks and I think Hixon will contribute, but I am glad Manningham is stepping up.

Mannigham looks like he has the goods; he is not a one dimensional receiver and he has shown it already in two games. He has a great football body with a upper body strength and chiseled arms, obviously very important for WR. He has very good straight away speed, very quick feet to make cuts, has jumping ability and excellent hands to catch the ball in a crowd, great body control to adjust on a ball and great balance and footwork to work the sidelines. We have seen all of these attributes already in just two games. He has caught little WR screens and shimmy-and-shaked his way past defenders several times for big gains; he used straight away speed to get behind the DB for a 50 yard completion against Dallas,; went up and caught a 25 yard fade on a pattern that was supposed to be a go route; he caught the ball over the middle several times on crossing routes; he showed the hands and the body control on that juggling catch for a TD on Sunday night.

My point is that sometimes WR's come in as unknown quantities, make a big splash up front but then don't sustain the success. Often this is because they have great speed but not much else; the defense is not prepared to guard them and they surprise with some big plays. When they have to become complete WRs, they don't have the necessary skills. Two examples that come to mind are Devin Hester and perhaps the Cowboys' Roy Williams. I am not predicting stardom for Mannigham, but he certainly has the complete toolbox of skills that a WR needs in order to perform at a high level. The most encouraging development besides the physical skills is that his seriousness and mental grasp of the game seems to be strong. The knock on him coming out of college was that he had off-field issues, did poorly on the Wuderlick test and was not a great student of the game. He seems to have put these behind him and is tight with Eli on sight adjustments, audibles and accurate route running.

Steve Smith is also stepping up, but he has shown us most of his skills before. He has great feet and is a great route runner. He has shown more quickness this year and while he is not a pure burner, he has enough speed to go deep occasionally.

The Giants runing game has been substandard in the first two games and was particualrly bad against the Cowboys. I think there are several reasons for this and I am not really worried (yet). For one thing, the Cowboys are very difficult to run outside on. They have very quick LBs in a 3-4 scheme and Ratliff is tough at NT. I know that Tampa ran for 180 against them in week 1, but that performance might be a little misleading. Cowboys scored 3 times on long 1-play drives and their defense was forced to get on the field in steamy Tampa with aboslutely no rest in between. Tampa piled up most of their yards in the 2nd half when the game was decided and Dallas defense was gassed. Second, Dallas and Washington were both walking an extra S up to the line of scrimmage and playing their LB's very tight to the line to defend the Giants running game. Dallas also did a lot of run blitzing and got good penetration preventing the Giants from running. The Giants did not totally abandon the run, but Gilbride did what they had to do - passed 60% of the time (same as against the Redksins) instead of getting closer to a 50-50 mixture, which Coughlin likes to do. As a result, the Giants running game was not effective, but this defensive alignment gave the Giants opportunities in the passing game which they certainly took advantage of. Eventually opposing defenses will start respecting the pass and give the Giants a better chance to get the running game going.

What I like about the passing game is how it seems to be have been remade this year with the different WRs. Burress and Toomer were big, not very fast targets. The Giants therefore ran a lot of hooks, a lot of out patters and an occasional deep ball to stretch the offense. With these quicker, more explosive WRs, Giants are throwing more deep balls, more quick slants and crossing routes. I often criticize Gilbride (I am about to in the next paragraph) but give him credit for fitting the attack to the skills of the players. He's coaching the team rather than forcing a scheme onto the players.

One thing that I will blame Gilbride for is the continued red zone difficulties. If you have a good OL, a big RB and can run the ball, have good WRs, have a big target at TE and a heady QB there is no reason you shouldn't be able to be more efficient in the red zone. My contention is that 90% of goal line success, assuming you have the tools, is playcalling. Giants pack the OL tight and try to ram it through, seemingly every time. This week, they tried to run outside with Bradshaw out of thie tight formation, but that didn't work either. They should occasionally try spreading things out instead of packing everyone so tight and using play action pass on 1st or 2nd down with a pass to the TE. This used to be the Giants favorite goal line play in the Simms-to-Bavaro days. Maybe Gilbride should revive it with an Eli-to-Boss reprise. Gilbride has to get a little more creative on the goal line.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Giants DB-field was absolutely brilliant. Terrell Thomas may not give the starting job back when Ross is healthy and can return - he has been that good. Romo may have had a bad day throwing the ball, but he did not have many open WRs anywhere. Bruce Johnson has been a find as the undrafted rookie FA and the 3rd CB. He's not a shut down CB, but he has good quickness, speed and does not seem to be out of position. He looks to be very well coached.

Let me wax eloquent on Giants coaches for a minute - I think we have among the best position coaches in the NFL. Flaherty is widely regarded as the best OL coach in the NFL. But I think DL coach Waufle is excellent and DB coach Giunta is a top coach as well. So many players improve on their individual technique and don't seem to miss too many assignments, something that is particualry important for DBs. Look how much Corey Webster has improved since the Tim Lewis regime has departed. Thomas looks very polished at CB and Dockery has also improved. Of course the DB's need the natural talent, but a big part of their progression is the coaching. The coaches don't only install the schemes and call when the team will blitz. The position coaches teach technique and it is a big plus for the team.

By contrast, Cowboys have two young, fast, well regarded CBs in Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick (along with a star in veteran CB Newman). Unfortunatley, they have no idea how to play. Manningham beat Jenkins several times, beat Newman for his TD and had Scandrick so confused that he was standing still waiting for Manningham to present his route before he responded (and trailed him badly). Scandrick was also the one who fell on his a$$ on the Steve Smith TD. Every CB gets beat, but Scandrick's technique on that play was so flawed that it bears analysis. First, Cowboys had only one S deep and the Giants had a WR (I think it was Moss) running deep down the sideline, so the S had to slide over and give deep help there. Scandrick was on Steve Smith who was in the slot on that play. Because the S was cheating to the sideline, Scandrick had no deep help and was essentially covering Smith 1-on-1. With no deep help, you need to play a little more conservatively and make sure to keep the play in front of you. Furthermore, with the S to the outside, you should probably play an inside technique and force the WR to the outside, forcing him where you have some help. Finally, in addition to keeping the play in front of you, the CB should watch the WR until he is sure he has committed to his route and only try to make a play on the ball after it has been thrown. Scandrick did every one of these things exactly wrong. He let Smith go to the inside; he bit on the first outside fake instead of reading the route; instead of keeping the play in front of him, he gambled on the outside move and was reading Eli's eyes instead of playing the man. He was looking for the big INT instead of playing good football. You saw the results, Eli baited him by looking to the left side of the field. Smith made a little move to the outside and then cut back to the inside on a post and Scandrick was so badly beaten that he actually fell down on the play. Sometimes a CB gets beat and there's nothing you can do about it. Here, the player did everything wrong, so we can ascribe at least some fault to the coaching.

Finally, we can be concerned about the abysmal run defense against the Cowboys. Here too, I am going to give the defense a pass and assume that they will get their act together. This may sound like a rationalization and if it does, I welcome your comments, but I think there are reasons that the run defense was bad. First of all, the run defense was awful in the 2nd half and not as bad in the 1st half. Giants had only 3 DTs dressed with Canty out. Tuck always takes some snaps at DT and when he went out, the DT rotation was really thin. Add the fact that the night was hot and humid, that the Cowboys have a huge OL that is allowed to hold, trip and put hands to the face on every play and you can understand why the run defense wore down and was so bad. I don't think it was a coaching or a scheme thing. I think that they physically beat up the undermanned DL. Having said that, Osi looked really bad against the run - nearly all the Cowboys runs were to the left side of their OL, right at Osi. That could also be contributed to by Tuck's absence, because he is the Giants DE that is most stout against the run. I am willing to see if they can get better before I panic.

The Giants may reinforce their DL, particularly if Canty and Tuck are out for a few games. I would not be surprised to see them sign Douzable, who was cut when Boley was added to the team after week 1. This would mean that they would have to cut another player - maybe Wilkinson.... maybe even Sinorice Moss.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Giants: Cowboys game preview

This will be a tough game.

It's hard to measure the Cowboys after only one game. They won big, beating the Tampa Bay Bucs 34-21. But if we graded the Giants defense on a curve against the Redskins, using my diving competition degree-of-difficulty analogy, we can certainly say the same for the Cowboys. The Tampa Bay Bucs are not very good. CBs when they lose a step can go downhill in a hurry, and that seems to be the case with Tiki's brother Ronde. There are several ways to look at this Cowboys game against the Bucs. From one perspective, the Cowboys were up only 20-14 after a Bucs drive of 84 yards and nearly 5 minutes ended in a TD with 11:45 left in the 4th qtr. Down less than 1 TD in the 4th qtr - that's a close game. However, after that, the Cowboys hit a couple of big plays to score two 4th qtr TDs and break the game open. Are the Cowboys a big play offense able to strike at a moment's notice or are the Bucs a weak defensive team that can give up big plays to any team. Is the Cowboys offense a threat because they can make big plays or not as dangerous because they were not able to sustain and finish any long drives. The Cowboys certainly have some weapons, but perhaps not as strong as last year - I don't think Roy Williams is as dynamic a player as TO was. Certainly Romo is a very good passer and can make big plays, especially when he is out of the pocket. Marion Barber is a good runner and Felix Jones looks dangerous, but I think their OL may be in a bit of a slide which could hamper their offense.

On the defensive side of the ball, I think the Cowboys are not as good as they were a few years ago. For one thing, their massive DT, Canty, now plays with the Giants. DeMarcus Ware is a great pass rusher, but their DB-field is questionable. The Bucs put up 450 yards of offense against them last week. It is true that 72 of the Bucs' yards and the last TD came in garbage time, when the Cowboys had opened up a 20 point lead and were playing soft defense. But in the final analysis, the Bucs with a retread QB in Byron Leftwitch were able to move the ball against them on the ground and through the air. The other reason I think the Cowboys defense may have slipped just a bit from a few years ago is that Parcells is no longer their coach and Wade Phillips is. I think if you can block their DL, you can make some plays against them.

So - is the Cowboys offense dangerous because they can make big plays. Or is their offense ordinary because they did not sustain long drives and had to rely on mistakes by a bad Bucs secondary in order to score their points. It probably is more to the dangerous side - the NFL is all about play makers. A way to look at the league is that there are lots of good solid football players on all teams that are about equal. If your team has a few players that can make big plays, whatever the circumstances, whoever they are playing against, on offense or on defense, they will win a lot of games.

For the Giants, Aaron Ross is still out but Dockery is returning and participated fully in practice this week, beginning on Wednesday. He will be an important addition to the Giants defense this Sunday.

I just heard a report on NFL Network that said that Canty strained his calf last week, different from the hamstring injury that had him out earlier, but still, Canty will not play this week against the Cowboys. The Giants still have a solid rotation of DTs to use, but Canty would have been highly motivated to go back to Dallas and send a message to the team that let him leave. This is a blow for the Giants if it is true.

I really think that this game will be determined in great measure by the play of the OL and DL on both sides of the ball. I know I'm not saying anything too deep with that last statement, because the battle at the line of scrimmage often determines victory. But in this game, the Cowboys weakness on offense is their OL and the Giants strength is their DL. Cowboys have players that can make plays and if Romo is given time, he will certainly put up some points. If Corey Webster can lock up Roy Williams this week like he did Santana Moss last week, it will be a big boost for the Giants defense, but the pass rush is key so Romo does not have too much time. I look for the Giants to do a bit more blitzing this week than they did last week and try to force Romo into some mistakes.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Giants need a big game from their OL. The Cowboys LBs and DBs are not their strength, their DL is. The Giants lost to the Cowboys as one of their defeats when they lost 3 of their last 4 at the end of last year. They lost that game because they simply could not block the Cowboys. Burress was out, the Cowboys stacked the line of scrimmage against the run and when the Giants had to pass, they blitzed Manning and were able to sack him and pressure him all game long. The Cowboys sacked Eli 8 times that night, and Eli was only sacked 23 times the entire season. It is true that the OL was hurt because Kareem McKenzie was out with back spasms form the 2nd quarter on and Rich Seubert missed the 2nd half because he was sick with the flu. Regardless of the circumstances, the Cowboys DL won the game against the Giants OL and the Giants OL has to have a big game to make up for that. The Cowboys will probably try to do the same thing this time and the Giants OL has to stand up to them. The Giants also have to have a more aggressive game plan and be prepared to pass on running downs. A selective dosage of play action passes will be effective this week as well. That Cowboys loss last year was the worst game of the year by the OL and the offense. The Giants OL is very good, has a great deal of pride, is ticked as heck about their performance last year and wants to atone (sic) for their play in that game. The OL has one other thing going for it: Pat Flaherty is probably the best OL coach in football. You can bet that they will come up with the plan and the techniques to play better this time.

The reason this will be a tough game, however is the environment and the emotions that will be running through the stadium for the game, the home opener of the Cowboys in their new mega-stadium. It's impossible to predict how that will affect the players. Giants are tough and I don't think they will fold their tents and go home. But the Cowboys will really be pumped and we'll see how it affects them. The other reason the Cowboys will be tough is that the calendar says September and that is Romo time.

The Giants have one significant edge in this game - the coaching. I simply don't think that Wade Phillips is a good coach and Coughlin is an excellent HC with a proven track record and the hardware to prove it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Giants: Personnel moves

I mentioned in yesterday's blog post that the Giants would not go into a game with only 2 RB's and would probably sign Allen Patrick off the practice squad. Instead, they signed Gartrell Johnson, who had been waived by the San Diego Chargers. Apparently they really like Johnson - he is a very good pass catcher out of the backfield, he is a very good blocker and good at blitz pickups, even though he is not really big. That makes him a perfect 3rd down back and the Giants plan to feed him part of the playbook and use him right away, not just sit him on the bench as an emergency fill in. It is evident that they like him because they released Patrick off the practice squad. Johnson was a 4-year player at Colorado State and was drafted 4 slots after the Giants drafted Brown in the 2009 draft.

The Giants also activated Michael Boley. Because Ware is still on the roster, they had to deactivate 2 players. As I suspected yesterday, it was DT Leger Douzable and an OL-man, Tutan Reyes. The Giants had a surplus at both the OL and DL, so this was the logical move. I was a little surprised that Reyes went, I thought it might be Boothe, because Reyes looked so good in the preseason games. But Boothe is younger and gives the Giants a little more flexibility, since he can play both T and G, so that was probably a factor in his favor. Furthermore, if they really get into trouble, Reyes will probably be available, as another team would not be likely to pick up an 11 year veteran and pay the minimum veteran salary required.

LB Gerris Wilkinson is not in the clear yet, IMHO. Boley has been activated, but is probably not ready to play a full turn at LB, since he was out virtually all of training camp. It's hard to imagine that he is in game shape and that he has mastered the defense. So, they will stay this way for a few weeks. If Gartrell Johnson, the new RB that the Giants just signed shows them enough and they like the way he plays, when Ware comes back they could keep Johnson on the roster and dress 4 RBs. Then, when Boley does get up to full speed, if the Giants need to add another DB, which I think they might, Wilkinson could still be at risk.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Giants: Redskins game review

There are definitely some encouraging things to take out of this game, and some things that have to be improved and built upon also. I thought Eli was particularly sharp, even though he made an awful decision on that INT in the 2nd half. The WRs were productive against a very good Washington DB-field. They were not getting wide open, but they were open enough for an accurate passer to get them the ball, which Eli did. Gorgeous throw to Steve Smith on the final FG drive. The defense looked good, but if you're grading this like they do diving competitions, where there is a degree of difficulty for each dive, maybe playing a Redskins offense led by QB Campbell and HC Zorn, the scores for the Giants defense aren't so high. (8.6, 8.4 and 4.5 from the Russian judges.)

A word about Campbell and Zorn. Campbell is a great athlete; he is big, he can run and he has a really strong, fairly accurate arm. He is not so quick, nor does he have a particularly quick release, is not a quick decision maker and does not have great touch on his ball - either for short passes or for the intermediate ones where you have to get it over the head of the LBs and drop it in front of the S. But, contrary to what others think, I think he could be a decent NFL QB in the right system. Jim Zorn comes in and installs a west coast offense for the Redskins, a style that is not suited, IMHO, to the skills of Campbell. (Somebody check the map - Washington is on the east coast, right?) He doesn't have the WR's to play west coast style either - Santana Moss is more of a straight line deep threat than he is shifty and quick. So Campbell, while getting used to the league also has to get used to 3 different coaches and OCs in his time with Washington and suffer through a system that is not suited to his style. I don't love Gilbride and Eli had awful Hufnagel as OC in his first year, but at least Gilbride is capable, if not brilliant and creative. Eli also did have Coughlin for some continuity. Campbell has a tough go of it in Washington. Maybe he'll surprise us and come around.

How did you like the call by Zorn on the second play of the game? Portis runs for 30 on the first play and he calls a WR option pass on the second play. Really had the Giants fooled, too.

Manningham showed great play making ability on the little WR screen, when he made 3 people miss and skipped down the sideline for a TD. There are a few things I really liked about that play. First, the people Mannigham eluded were not slow DL-men that got caught in a mismatch; he beat both D'Angelo Hall and Fred Smoot in addition to a LB. Second, he had the presence of mind and the body control to keep his feet in bounds and take everything that the defense gave him, not just give up after he got the first down. Finally, and perhaps most important is that this was an audible that Eli called, because he read a blitz coming from the back side of the defense; so the qb and the young WR were on the same page and made a big play out of it.

Boss is really coming into his own as a top shelf TE. He has soft hands, the hands of a basketball player (which he was in college) and is transforming his body into the body of a football player. He has decent speed, great size, runs nice routes and has even become a good blocker.

The OL played pretty well Sunday, though they were certainly not dominant in the running game. Jacobs looked OK and Bradshaw looked productive. It is too bad that Ware went down, because he would have gotten some carries Sunday, in that heat. BTW - because of the Ware injury, I think the Giants will probably sign a RB to the roster. I doubt that the Giants will go into a game with only 2 RBs and signing Allen Patrick from the practice squad makes the most sense. Unfortunately, this means that they are going to have cut someone to make room for him, unless they put Ware on IR. This is unlikely, since it is deemed to be a 3-6 week injury at worst. Boley is coming back this week, so it means that there will have to be a second player cut from the roster. My guess is that Leger Douzable and one OL-man will go. Canty played enough Sunday to give the Giants confidence that he will be ready to play at full strength soon enough. The Giants dressed only 7 OL-men on Sunday and keeping 3 OL-men inactive but on the roster is probably a luxury that they cannot afford. My guess is that one will go. It is also possible that LB Wilkinson could go.

Eli does not get enough credit for moving around in the pocket and avoiding the rush. He is thought of as slow and immobile. While he is certainly not a scrambler or fast runner, he has such good pocket awareness, has nimble feet and is fairly agile that he is often able to buy some extra time to make a play. He did it beautifully a few times on Sunday, once when he hit Boss for a big gain.

Just a little note: measuring a QB strictly by numbers is stupid. Many QB's play in much more wide open offenses than others, in domes, in warm weather, with great productive WRs and with a more aggressive offensive style than others do. Last night night Tom Brady completed 10 more passes (39) than Eli attempted (29) on Sunday. I am not comparing Eli to Brady, just syaing that numbers do not tell the whole story.

The big things to improve on the offensive side of the ball are the productivity of the running game and the short yardage offense. I am willing to give the Giants offense a little slack for the running game, because the Redskins were constantly walking a S up to the line of scrimmage and playing single S high. Still, the Giants running game was not awful, but we are used to seeing much more productivity there. I suspect all teams will do this to the Giants, but Redskins are better able to do it because they have really good CBs who don't need as much help. It will be interesting to see what the Cowboys do. One answer is to burn them with the pass and keep them honest especially in the traditional running downs.

As far as short yardage, I think Gilbride could be a bit more creative. Try spreading the offense out and let Jacobs find a hole, or where he has to only run over one guy instead of 3 guys in the middle of the line. Try a fake into the line and a little pitch to the outside. They have to fix that. Redskins do have a particularly large and strong DL, so let's wait a bit before we panic on that one.

Back to the defense a little bit - Giants stopped the run really well and got decent pass rush against Campbell. Giants were short handed at CB with both Dockery and Ross out, the 2nd and 3rd CB's. This promoted Terrell Thomas to start and I have a lot of confidence in him. I think he will be a starter in this league before very long. It also pushed rookie FA Bruce Johnson onto the field and the Redskins played a lot of 3 WR sets to keep him on the field. He played pretty well and held his own. But, because they were short in the DB-field, the Giants moved Terrell Thomas to the slot often where he is not used to playing and Randle El beat him a few times. This allowed Johnson to stay on the outside where there is less traffic and fewer decisions to make. Giants also played a little more zone than usual and blitzed a little less than usual, I assume, to make sure that they didn't expose the DB-field and put too much pressure on the rookie. Giants will be really tested this week against Cowboys who have the weapons and the QB to put any DB-field to the test. I am not looking ahead to the Cowboys quite yet, but it would be nice to get Dockery back. Ross is apparently a few weeks away.

It's too bad that Nicks got hurt, he was really starting to develop and the coaches are really high on him and actually started using him a bit. With Nicks out a few weeks, I guess Moss gets to step into the fold and show his stuff. I like Moss a lot more than the coaches apparently do. We'll see how he does the next few weeks. Productive WR will be very important against the Cowboys because I think the Cowboys defense is not that great, but they will put up a lot of points with that offense. Could be a Texas shootout next week.

I know this is 20-20 hindsight, but with Nicks now out, I guess it's good that the Giants have a lot of WRs instead of one go-to guy. It's called mitigating risk.

One last thing - and I don't want to sound like a sports-talk-radio whiner, but I really do think that the Giants get hosed on refs calls. Or better said - other home teams get the benefit of refs being influenced by home town environment and the Giants don't seem to. There were at least 3 late hits that could have been called on the Redskins that weren't and the blatant face mask on Eli that caused the fumble was not called. Refs are supposed to be over protective of QB's and I could see this one from the stands, I don't understand why it wasn't called. My theory is that the refs and the league are paranoid about appearing to favor NY, because they don't want to appear to be pumping up a NY team artificially. Conspiracy theorists will always argue that it's good for the league (any sports league really) to have a successful franchise in the NY market because of the media attention it brings. Particularly football where every play is analyzed and reviewed with all the outstanding TV network coverage, refs go overboard to prevent even the slightest appearance of partiality to the NY team. I welcome comments on this theory.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Giants: What can go wrong

NFL season kicked off last night with the Steelers beating the Titans by a FG and in less than 48 hours from now the Giants season starts against the Redskins. I am really looking forward to this season with great anticipation and eagerness. I think the Giants will have a good season and depending how things break, they could have a very good season. Realistically, it is possible that some things will not break right and the Giants season could be worse than I anticipate and we have to consider those eventualities. So this is a good news/bad news situation; a glass half full/half empty; an uptown/downtown scenario. Have I run enough trite cliches past you yet? Well, that's the way the cookie crumbles!

In this post, let's start with the pessimistic news. I've listed below a few things that could go very wrong for the Giants this year, and if they do go wrong it could negatively affect the season.

(1) None of the WRs emerge as true go-to deep threats. Giants end up with a bunch of #2 WRs instead of anyone who is a true # 1. I don't think a team needs one particular player to be the deep threat. In fact, it is more effective if a team has several guys that can burn the defense. But if absolutely nobody is a deep threat, Giants could be in trouble. Because opposing defenses won't fear the pass, they stack the line of scrimmage, take away Giants running game and the offense sputters all year.

(2) The OL starts to show its age. Even though the Giants have a very young team overall, as measured by average age, they are NOT young in the OL. Snee is fairly young, having played only 5 years. But O'Hara has been around the block and McKenzie has been around a bit longer and may be starting to show his age with various back problems the last year or two. Diehl is very reliable, but is not a great pass blocker and if he slows a little, it could also be trouble. Sometimes an OL goes really quickly from being experienced and aware to being old and slow. The worry here also is that the backups are all development projects at T and an injury could really hurt.

(3) Canty injury and Bernard injury do not heal and neither FA fulfills the promise of a run stuffer and pass rusher from the DT position.

(4) Giants end up missing Derrick Ward more than we think. Everyone has high hopes for Bradshaw, but he does not take on blitzers as effectively as Ward used to. He is also not as big as Ward was and maybe if Jacobs gets hurt, he has trouble carrying the burden and the bulk of the load.

(5) Boley takes a long time to get adjusted to the new defense. Giants defense lacks cohesiveness all year because of all the early injuries

(7) Running game suffers more than we think because of trade of TE Matthews to Patriots. Matthews is not a star, but he is a solid blocker. It is better to get something for a TE instead of cutting one and getting nothing back, but not if they lose the wrong guy.

(8) I can't list injuries as a specific worry for the Giants more than for any other team because the wrong kind of injuries can take any team down, and the Giants seem to have good depth. But here's my concern: the Giants have a somewhat unbalanced roster. They have lots of DL-men (9) and OL-men (10) but are thin at some other positions. Specifically, they have only 3 tail backs and while at S they have 4 players and that is the right number, I don't think the 3rd and 4th are very strong players. I am still surprised that the Giants did not make a play for a S after other teams made cuts. Russell got cut by the Seahawks and I did not hear that anyone else signed him.

Next post is going to be more optimistic - what could break right for the Giants that will give them a very strong season. Stay tuned.

Other notes and thoughts

I found it really interesting that the Giants are starting Chase Blackburn at LB over Wilkinson or Kehl. I thought these latter two played well in preseason, but I guess the Giants disagree. Redskins throw to Cooley, their TE, a lot, and pass coverage is not Blackburn's strong suit. With Kehl and Wilkinson not cracking the starting lineup, it seems likely that one of them (probably Wilkinson) will be cut when Boley comes back.

Ross is out for the Redskins game and Dockery is hurting. This means that Terrell Thomas gets a start and new rookie FA Bruce Johnson sees the field as nickel back. Should be interesting.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Giants: 53 Man Roster (Almost)

Giants announced their (almost) final cuts for the season to get to their 53 man opening day roster. There is still one more adjustment coming before week 2. Read on.

As we expected, David Tyree did not make the team and there was much emotion and attention associated with that move. Last time Tyree caught the ball as a Giant was on his helmet in Super Bowl LXII. In an unanticipated move, the Giants traded TE Michael Matthews to the Patriots for a future draft choice. This means that Darcy Johnson makes the team as the 3rd TE. He did bulk up a bit, as I noted earlier and he is more able to handle some of the blocking duties that Matthews previously had. Perhaps they viewed him as a little more versatile than Matthews, who was almost exclusively used as the blocking TE. I thought Johnson had a mediocre preseason.

Giants kept 10 OL-men, which is quite a high number, and did not cut Kevin Boothe, as I thought they might.

They also kept 7 WRs as I predicted (and hoped) that they would. Sinorice Moss' roster spot was saved, probably helped by his 2 TD performance in the last preseason game.

On the defensive side of the ball, Alford went on IR and in a mild surprise, the Giants kept 9 DL-men including Leger Douzable, a FA with ony 1 year in the league. Douzable was involved in the incredible TD on the last play of the Carolina Panther preseason game, which gave the Giants their only preseason win. Douzable hit the qb as he was throwing on the last play of the game. The ball was taken out of the air by Tommie Hill who returned it for a TD. Giants also kept 8 LBs, including Gerris Wilkinson, who probably was on the bubble.

But the defensive picture is not finished, because LB Michael Boley still has to be added to the team. He is suspended for the first game of the season and so does not take up a roster spot until he is activated for game 2. Most likely, the Giants kept 9 DL-men for now because Canty is not quite ready to play, so they carried Douzable for at least game 1. When they activate Boley for game 2, they will be able to judge whether Canty is ready to play a full shift in the DL rotation. If he is, they may cut Douzable, or perhaps Tollefson. If they like what they see from Douzable in the season opener, they may keep him and cut one of the LB's. Another alternative if they keep Douzable and 9 DL-men is to evaluate whether to cut a LB or OL-man. As I noted above, 10 OL-men is a lot to carry. Coughlin said it clearly when asked about keeping Sinorice Moss and 7 WRs. The obligation is to keep the best players on the roster. They will have to evaluate who is the best pure athlete and football player: Boothe, Wilkinson or Douzable. In my mind, Wilkinson has shown a lot of athleticism in this preseason and can play ST. It comes down to Boothe or Douzable. This also gives the Giants some wiggle room in case there is an injury in the first game; the decision will be made for them.

Carrying extra players in these units is made possible because Giants saved 2 roster spots from last year at the RB position and 2 in the DB-field. They are carrying only 4 RBs: 3 tailbacks and 1 FB - Hedgecock. Last year they also carried Reuben Droughns and Derrick Ward. Droughns was a ST player and his spot there can be thought of as being taken by Derek Hagan, who is the 7th WR. The interesting thing about the trade of Michael Matthews is that he was a backup at FB. I guess they will use Travis Beckum at that slot and perhaps they will run some plays for him to take advantage of his speed. The Giants are putting extra burden on their OL in the running game, because Matthews was a very accomplished blocker. Darcy Johnson is not as good a blocker; nor is Beckum, who is smaller and more of a speed-TE.

At DB, Bruce Johnson made the team instead of Rashad as a backup S. Johnson can also play a little CB in nickel and dime packages and looks like a very good ST player. I consider the backups at S a little weak. Giants may still look for a better backup S from other team's roster cuts.

In 2007, Giants had all their draft choices make the team. They didn't do as well this year, with 5 of the 9 draftees making the team. QB Bomar was cut along with both late round CBs, Stoney Woodson and DeAndre Wright. 4th round pick RB Brown from NC State was put on IR with an achilles rupture earlier in the preseason. Having 5 draftees make the team is a pretty successful draft, especially if they contribute the first year. The draftees that made the team are: Nicks, Beatty, Sintim, Barden and Beckum. However, if you want to second guess the Giants drafting this year, you could certainly say that the late round CB's and QB Bomar had little chance of making the team and the Giants would have been better off packaging those picks in a trade to move up higher in one of the earlier rounds of the draft. Of course, this is purely analysis in hindsight, but it is something to think about. Giants will probably re-sign one of the 2 qbs they cut, Bomar or Woodson, to the practice squad.

I always find it interesting how much change there is in football. By my count the Giants, coming off a 12 win season, have 12 new players on this team, which is nearly 1/4 of the roster.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Giants: Patriots preseason game review

There are a few things to take out of this game. First of all, we can't get excited about how the starters did in the 1st quarter, because they were doing it against a team full of substitutes for the Patriots. Nevertheless, it was good to see them move down the field so easily for 3 straight scores, and it surely beats the alternative of struggling or having a mediocre outing against the other team's substitutes.

The good things: regardless of the opposition, the WRs can actually catch the ball. They continued to run good routes, get open and even made some outstanding adjustments and strong catches. I am particularly referring to the catch by Hixon on the 2nd TD drive and the catch by Nicks for the 3rd TD. Manningham also made some catches in traffic and caught a ball that came over his head and his shoulder on a medium depth flag pattern (not near the goal line, though).

Sinorice Moss showed why he is too good to let go and why he is occasionally in the coaches' doghouse. He scored 2 TDs on the first two balls that were thrown to him. One was a go route, where he curved to the outside and showed off his great speed. The second was a route where he had to cut sharply to his right to get away from the defender on a 15 yard route. He showed sure hands by catching a hard thrown ball in perfect form, in his hands, hands extended away from the body and securing the ball immediately. Great route, good catch. Then later, he dropped a ball on a curl route. He was coming back for the ball and instead of catching it and stopping, gaining whatever he could, he ran backwards, trying to get away from the defender and make a big play. Even if he hadn't dropped it, he would've lost yards from the original spot of the catch. Then later he was not on the same page with the qb, when Woodson threw an out route and Moss ran a go route. You can't be sure if that was the mistake of the qb or the WR, but it still shows that he makes occasional mistakes.

Coaches are right to focus on the little things and to coach the players not to make mistakes, assignment errors, etc. I get that - that's one of the things the coaches are for. But an occasional assignment error when it comes from a player who could be enormously productive is something I can live with, and I think coaches need to modify their thinking about this sometimes. They obsess about mistakes and sometimes forget about production. After watching Moss run by the Patriot second string DB's like they were college players, I remain mystified as to why they couldn't figure out a way to get him on the field last year to replace Toomer, especially after Burress went out. I sure hope Moss makes the team and the Giants carry 7 WRs this year. (See previous post on my proposed roster). To make my point by using a baseball analogy: I hate it when a batter overswings and strikes out when trying to move a runner into scoring position. I don't hate it any less when the guy hits .330 with 40 HRs than I do if the guy is a .250 hitter, but I am not going to take the .330/40 HR guy out of the lineup. I am going to live with the occasional mistake. If Moss can stretch the field and make big plays, coach him the best you can to avoid errors, but live with the occasional goof. It makes the offense more dangerous.

David Carr looked real good again last night. It was nice to see Boss catch some balls and make some plays.

There is good talent on the Giants DL and it is unfortunate that some of these players have to get cut. Clark, Evans and Douzable show some real talent. I had Tollefson making the team as the 4th DE, but Evans might squeeze him out for the spot. Whoever gets cut will likely get picked up and make an NFL roster this year. If Alford surprises me and is able to play this season, he will be on the roster ahead of all of those mentioned above.

Pierce looked fairly spry out there and it was good to see him run around, his foot apparently recovering.

I love Gerris Wilkinson's ability. Chase Blackburn started last night, but Wilkinson is a better athlete. He is big, very fast and capable. I hope he makes the team.

Eli mentioned a couple of times throughout training camp that Giants would use WR by committee. Giants should be creative and use the same philosophy with the WRs that they have used at DL and RB. A few guys all sharing the playing time, rotating in and running different packages of plays could be very interesting and effective. Slightly different styles of the WRs could confuse the defense and give them more to prepare for. More important, the WRs are then fresh all game long and can run as hard as they can on every play, knowing that they are only playing 1/2 the snaps or so.

I thought Beatty looked good playing with the starters in place of Diehl on the OL. Of course, he was playing against substitutes, not starters.

Bring on the regular season. Most of the prognosticators are picking the Eagles in the NFC East. I can't wait until Donovan McNabb has his first 2 INT day and fans start calling for Michael Vick. Goodell has reduced Vick's suspension and he will only miss 2 games. I heard that Goodell warned him to behave himself, because he will be watching. Vick is on a very short leash.

Mark Sanchez looks pretty good and I think the Jets are going to have a very good season.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Giants: My view of the 2009 roster

Here's my take on the Giants final roster

Position: QB (2)
Manning, Carr
Comments: Most teams carry 3 qbs, but neither Woodson nor Bomar, the other qbs have shown enough in preseason to make it likely that they will be grabbed up by other teams. This makes it almost certain that at least one will be able to be resigned and added to the practice squad.

Position: RB/FB (5)
Jacobs, Bradshaw, Ware, Patrick, Hedgecock
Comments: It's a risk to carry only 3 tailbacks, so Patrick makes the team. Hedgecock is the only FB, but Matthews and even Beckum can be backups at that position. Last year Giants carried 6 at this position, so they save a roster spot with only 5.

Position: TE (3)
Boss, Matthews, Beckum
Comments: Darcy Johnson is tough luck cut from last year's roster.

Position: OL (9)
Diehl, Seubert, O'Hara, Snee, McKenzie, Beatty, Koets, Whimper, Reyes
Comments: Nine is one more player than Giants carried on last year's roster. Reyes looks good. Although Whimper has not progressed as much as the Giants would have liked, I think he has shown enough to make the team. Giants may still project him to be a starting OT in this league and if they do, he will stick. He is still on the bubble, though. Boothe gets cut from last year's roster.

Position: WR (7)
Smith, Hixon, Manningham, Moss, Nicks, Barden, Hagan
Comments: Notable cut is David Tyree. Last year the Giants carried 6 WRs. If they decide that 7 is too many and they really like Hagan's potential and ST ability, Moss may go. If so, he will get snapped up by some other team and make Giants look stupid.

Position: DE (4)
Umenyiora, Tuck, Kiwanuka, Tollefson

Position: DT (4)
Robbins, Cofield, Canty, Bernard
Comments: I'm assuming Alford goes to IR. If he makes the roster, there could be some extra shuffling at other positions. I am very high on Alford and am sorry to see him hurt.

Position: LB (8)
Pierce, Clark, Blackburn, Kehl, Goff, Wilkinson, DeOssie, Sintim
Comments: Last year the Giants carried 7 at this position. Wilkinson is at risk if the Giants need to squeeze someone on the roster at another position. Boley to be added after game 1.

Position: CB (5)
Webster, Ross, Dockery, Thomas, Johnson
Comments: Last year the Giants carried 6 CBs, though Madison was hurt much of the time and didn't dress often. Johnson has shown speed, but is a project.

Position: S (4)
Phillips, Johnson, Brown, Rashad
Comments: I love the Giants starters at S, I think Phillips is going to be a big time player. But honestly - I really don't like the depth at all. Brown looked slow to me and Rashad has not shown much. Pray the starters stay healthy. I would give one of the CBs some reps at S. It's possible that the Giants may pick up a S from some other team's roster cuts.

Position: Kickers (2)
Feagles, Tynes
Comments: I don't love Tynes. Feagles is old, but still has game.

Sad to see Tyree go. I'm really bummed out about Alford's injury. He was a star in waiting. Giants may keep Alford on the roster for a week or two, because they may not have to add Boley right away, if he is supended. That will give them another week to make a decision or see if some injury pops up.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Giants: Well dressed Amani Toomer ...

.... was cut by the Chiefs after they had signed him to a 1 year contract only a few weeks ago. I am now more ticked off than ever that genius Giants OC Kevin Killdrive didn't get these young WR's on the field last year. Toomer was not picked up by any team. His career is probably over unless some team gets a ton of injuries at the WR position and needs an emergency fill-in during the season. Alternatively perhaps some team is looking for a slow WR who drops a lot of catchable passes. Are you telling me that Toomer lost all his ability after the final playoff game last year? The entire NFL saw that he was not a capable WR anymore, but Giants kept sending him out there every game, every down and could not get Manningham or Moss on the field to give them some game experience and try them out. Ridiculous.

I thought David Carr looked very good throwing the ball against the Jets Saturday night. apparently he was in the doghouse and even got called out by the QB coach Chris Palmer, but I think he redeemed himself.

TE Darcy Johnson has always been high on the Giants list of potential future contributors. They even redid his contract to make it more cap friendly late last year. I think he has regressed. I remember him as being light, quick and a good pass catching player. He looks like he bulked up and got slower to me. I think he will not make the team this year.

I am still wavering about what will happen in the OL. I thought Tutan Reyes was a lock to make the team, because they just signed the veteran OL-man this past off season as a FA. But if the Chiefs cut Toomer after signing him a few weeks ago, maybe the Giants can cut Reyes even though they signed him only this year. Of course, Toomer stinks and Reyes seems to be playing very well.

Alford's injury opens the door for someone on the DL to make the team. I wonder who will walk through that door. Alford was also the snapper for FG's and DeOssie who in the LS for punts is trying to fill that position so the Giants don't have to sign a LS specialist and waste a roster spot. Of course, if they sign a LS for FGs, they may use him on punts also and cut DeOssie. That would be a shame, since DeOssie is the answer to one of my favorite trivia questions: Name a family that the father and son both won Super Bowl championships for the same franchise.

Other fun family trivia question: in the 2006 season, the Giants had 4 players on their roster than had brothers that were active on other NFL rosters. Furthermore, the Giants played all 4 teams in that 2006 season, meaning that there were 4 sibling rivalry games. Name the 4 brother pairs. (You can give your answers as comments to this post.)

Giants: Osi and Sheridan

I keep telling you guys to stick with this blog, because the information and analysis you get here is definitely ahead of the curve. (My accuracy in reporting and analysis is exceeded only by my modesty and humility.) Some recent examples:

  • I told you about Eli trumpeting Manningham's talents in that for-PSL-holder's only conference call and now we can clearly see that Manningham has emerged as a favorite target of the Giants in their passing game. I am not saying he has arrived as a star, I am just saying that the Giants are focusing on developing him as a real weapon.
  • I posted here about how the Giants were having trouble selling their last group of high priced club seat tickets, based on some of their apparent heavy handed marketing programs. Then, we see the same article in the NY Times earlier this week.
  • I posted very early on how I saw no chance for Tyree to make the roster and shortly after that all the beat writers picked up on this story. Tyree surely seems to be on his last legs as a NY Giant. It would be sad, ironic but somehow fitting if the last catch that Tyree makes in his career with the Giants is the helmet catch, the greatest single play in the history of the Super Bowl.
Now here comes another one which is really interesting, something which I just alluded to in yesterday's post. Specifically, I said that:

I am worried about the defense because of lack of continuity and practice time due to all the injuries. If Spagnuolo was still coach I would be less worried but Sheridan is an unknown quantity.

Then today, we get the story about Osi and Sheridan having a disagreement and Osi storming out of practice and playing hooky for a day. This is not good. Sheridan may be a very good X-es and O-s coach, but there's more to coaching than chalkboards and formations. He was on the staff with Spagnuolo and he is largely keeping the same defense in place, with some tweaks and refinements here and there. He has the same staff of position coaches, with the exception of the LB coach that he added to replace himself at that slot. We won't know until the regular season how he calls a game, rotates his players and uses the strategies that are at his disposal, so that is as yet unresolved. But the other key thing that a coach, or really a manger in any profession, needs to do is to relate to and motivate his players. Without getting too personal, I can say that I manage a staff of IT people. In addition to telling them what to do and coaching them on how to do it, I have to relate to them in a way that makes them feel good about their jobs and motivates them to perform at the highest level. My concern is that Sheridan is an old school guy that believes only in knocking down his players when they make a mistake. Spagnuolo was soft spoken and got the most out of his players by teaching, coaching and positively reinforcing good plays. While you must surely chastise your players at times to motivate them, that can not be the only tool in your tool box. Let's hope I am wrong and this was a momentary explosion, but I am fearful that Sheridan will not motivate his players positively and they will hate playing for him, which can affect on-the-field performance.

We got another little hint that Sheridan is not a player's coach and had a different style than Spagnuolo when he announced that he wanted to coach the game from the coaches box upstairs. You get a better view of the game and can see what defenses work and what the offense is doing from upstairs. That was worrisome to me. It was too antiseptic and was a possible sign that he doesn't believe that relating to and motivating his players is important. I am sure everyone remembers DC Spagnuolo in one of the most touching, human scenes that we will ever see in sports. It was the end of the Dallas playoff game in 2007, Giants ahead 21-17, 3rd down and 11 from the Giants 23 with 26 seconds left in the 4th quarter; then 4th down and 11 from the same spot with 16 seconds left. There was incredible tension in the air, Spagnuolo was kneeling on one knee on the sideline, head bowed and lips moving as if in prayer, hoping his team can hang in there for just one more play..... and then one more play after that. Don't you think the players were inspired by the sight of their coach on the sideline, into the game as deeply as they were? Would they have dug down as deep and come up with the big plays that they did, knowing that their coach was in the antiseptic booth in the sky, not motivating them, but looking down on them, literally and figuratively; not coaching them and motivating them but calling plays and looking for their mistakes? Sheridan wanted to coach the games from the box and Coughlin quickly stepped in and told him that he was going to be on the sidelines. Coughlin fixed it, but my point is that this may not be a good sign that Sheridan knows how to lead and motivate men. He wanted to be a God to them sitting and judging from the sky. That's not a good way to relate to players.

I was willing to let the sidelines/booth question go, but the Osi incident is another little nugget of information that adds to this picture and has me worried. Even if Osi was wrong in leaving and too sensitive in his reaction, it is not a good idea for the coach to get the team's best defensive player (or one of them) ticked off at him. Coughlin's reaction to the Osi situation was also very revealing. If another player, oh.... let's say a star WR, had left the team's practice without permission, we know how Coughlin would react. He would suspend the guy and fine him. But in this case, Coughlin said something dismissive like: "it must have been a personal matter for Osi. I have not talked to him about it." He obviously was trying to trivialize the incident, divert media attention from it and not have it explode into a major issue dividing the team. But if he thought the player was wrong and wanted to support his coach, he would have come down hard on the player, which he did with Plaxico in the past. I think he senses that Sheridan is at a delicate point in his relationship with his players and he wants to give Sheridan a chance to patch things up. Coughlin has to do a good job at coaching his coaches, not just his players.

Tim Lewis, the DC before Spagnuolo was a screamer, a belittler and a bad football coach. He was not effective, partly because he was not a good technical coach, but mostly because the players did not relate to his berating and yelling at them being the only tool-in-his-tool box. One of the reasons Spagnuolo was so effective is that he had the exact opposite style - thoughtful, analytical but firm - and the players really took to it after their Tim Lewis experience. I am concerned that Sheridan is a throw back to the Tim Lewis days and the players will reject it, especially because of the contrast to the recently departed and well liked Spagnuolo.

We'll see.