Friday, October 30, 2009

Giants: Coaching questions

There are some indications that the Giants are getting out-coached by their opponents. As much as the last two games may have exposed some weaknesses in the personnel, I think the coaches are at least partly to blame for not putting the players in the best position to succeed.

Cardinals came in with a novel plan against the Giants. They had 9 guys at the line of scrimmage to stop the run and would blitz often. This is not that new, lots of teams try to stop the Giants running game. The thing that the Cardinals did that was a little different was they showed one defense pre-snap and changed the safety's positioning after Eli adjusted the blocking schemes and/or the play call. Lots of defenses do this - show one defense to the QB on his pre-snap read and then change the defense at the last minute. The difference here is that the protection schemes that the Giants change to and the audibles that they make in response to the defense are so transparent and take so long for Eli to call out that when the defense re-adjusts, the Giants offensive play has no chance. This was particularly effective last week because the Cardinals S is very quick and very smart. For example, Cardinals would show 2-safeties back and near the snap, would walk one S up and shift to single safety high. It was too late for Eli to audible to a pass play, but he could change the direction of the running play to the opposite side of the field. To handle this, the S, instead of coming straight ahead, would run diagonally across the field and stop the running play. The play calls are too obvious, the changes that Giants make are too predictable and the Giants made an average Cardinals defense look like world beaters last week.

The announcers of the game seem to have discovered something about the Giants snap count. I don't know if they're exactly right, but it sure seemed like the Cardinals were getting a great jump on each play. This is something the coaches and Eli need to fix because it can make any offense look terrible. In 2000 when the Giants shutout the high powered Vikings offense 41-0 in the NFC championship game, the Giants discovered something on film about the Vikings snap count when they were in shotgun formation. Specifically, regardless of what the actual snap count was from the time that the OL got set, whether it was 1 beat or 5 beats, the C would drop his head and exactly 1 second later would snap the ball. This tipped the Giants when to rush. I can remember one play where Giants MLB Michael Barrow sped around the Vikings RT on a blitz and he was past him so fast that the RT did not have a chance to get out of his 3 point stance and even attempt a block. This is important. I don't think the Eagles are quite as exotic with their defense as the Cardinals were last week, they just like to dial up a lot of blitzes. But they will put extra guys in the box to stop the run and will blitz on running downs and passing downs. Giants have to be willing to take shots down the field and have to be a little deceptive on their formations and play calls.

Another indicator of being out-coached is the failure to make adjustments in-game to what the opposing team is doing. There are a few specific examples of this from the Cardinals game. In the first half, the Giants did a good job keeping Fitzgerald contained. They knew where he was lining up and they managed to get Webster or Thomas on him most of the time. In the 2nd half, the Cardinals lined up Fitzgerald at different spots - in the slot, even in the backfield once and managed to get him away from Webster. They got the matchups they wanted, with Fitzgerald in the middle of the field against a S and made a few big plays.

On the other side of the ball, the Giants had 14 points in the first half, though the offense did have some help in generating these points. One was good field position after a fumble recovery and one was on the lucky tipped ball by Nicks. Nevertheless, they did move the ball during the first half and at least had some plays for these scores. In the 2nd half, the Cardinals adjusted their defensive scheme, as noted above and the Giants did not get a first down on the first 3 possessions of the 2nd half. When the other team adjusts to what you're doing and stops you cold, that's 100% coaching.

Great coaches may have different game plans for the first half and second half. Or they may have a game plan assuming the opponents play to their tendencies and another game plan if the opponents do something different. I don't get the feeling that the Giants coaches go in with that level of planning. Against the Saints, the Giants players said that they expected the Saints to try to run the ball. I guess the Saints have run the ball 60% of the time in the 2nd half of games. (This is probably misleading, because a team tends to run a lot more when they have a big lead, but that's a different question.) Nevertheless, the coaches plan for a running attack by the Saints may not have been unreasonable. However when they saw the Saints throwing the ball all over the yard they should have changed their plan and made some adjustments.

Maybe this is just growing pains for the new DC and an OC that, although he's not new and has been around, needs to get used to new WRs and see what they can do. Certainly, I'd rather see this happening at the beginning of the year than at the end of the year, but the coaches have to show us that they can adjust the game plans before we give them high marks.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Giants: Eagles game preview

It's not time to give up on the season because of the current two game losing streak, though there are some worrying signs contained in these losses. For one thing, these are 2 of only 3 teams that the Giants have played with winning records so far this year. The other team Giants have played with a winning record is the Cowboys and that was before they got their Miles-Austin-generated mojo back, which they seem to have last week against Atlanta. Overall, Giants are 1-2 against teams with winning records and their 4 other wins came against teams with a cumulative record of 5-23. Are the Giants good enough to clean up against the weak teams and not good enough to beat the good teams? As the season unfolds, we will get a much better view of this question.

The Eagles game this weekend looks interesting, because the Eagles are a tough team to figure out. On the one hand, they have big weapons on offense and DeSean Jackson seems to be stepping forward as one of the best big play WRs in football. On the other hand, their OL is somewhat questionable and they had that awful loss against the Raiders two weeks ago. It is true that their OL was banged up against the Raiders; they had some OL-men come back healthy against the Redskins and won fairly easily 27-17. But if you look under the covers of that victory, it was an unusual offensive performance. They got two big plays out of Jackson, a 67 yard end around and a 57 yard pass play. Those two plays account for 124 yards, essentially half of the 260 yards of total offense that they gained. The rest of the offense was only 138 yards on the other 51 plays that they ran for a ridiculously meager average of 2.7 yards per play. Sometimes, if the opposing defense is pressing, blitzing and gambling you have to be patient and wait for the big play, so statistics can be somewhat deceiving. But that wasn't the case here - Redskins have a good defense and except for those two big plays, they completely shut down the Eagles offense. The other 13 points were a direct result of Redskins turnovers; one an INT returned for a TD and two fumble recoveries that the Eagles turned into FGs. The rest of the night the offense was rather unproductive and some of McNabb's passes looked like a throw from a baseball outfielder to nab a runner at home plate - intentionally bouncing about5-10 feet in front of the intended target. McNabb should be called out by PETA, like his teammate Michael Vick was, because McNabb killed a lot of worms on the Lincoln Financial Field turf. Put it this way: if Eli had been throwing passes like that, the media would be up in arms about what a bad, inconsistent passer he is. My point: the way to beat the Eagles (or at least contain their offense) is to try to take away big plays for DeSean Jackson, keep McNabb in the pocket and make him try to beat you with many short passes. Giants do have to watch out for Celek in the middle of the field, he is a good pass-catching TE. Eagles WRs are fast, but they are not physically imposing; not as big as Colston on New Orleans or Boldin and Fitzgerald on Arizona, so the mismatch against Giants safeties may not be as worrisome.

On defense, the Eagles are good against the run and there is no reason to think that they won't use the same strategy that they used to beat the Giants last year; and that the Cardinals and Saints used the last two weeks. Load up to stop the run in the early downs and blitz Eli like crazy in passing downs. Giants WRs are talented and will have some good games this year, but they are young and they will also have some bad games. The Cardinals counted on Giants WRs dropping the ball if they got open and it worked for them; Eagles will do the same because that's what they always do. There's not Dawkins back there at S and the Giants may have to hit some big plays on the Eagles to balance things out. As bad as the Giants offense looked against the Cardinals, if Manningham had caught that perfect pass from Eli at the 2 yard line and if Bradshaw had not fumbled with 3 minutes left in the game, the Giants may have actually pulled the game out and we might not be as worried about the offense this week.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Giants: Cardinals game review

Somehow I think the Cardinals game this past Sunday was even more disappointing and worrying than the Saints game last week. It's true that the game was closer on the scoreboard and the defense played a little better, with more enthusiasm and with more of an aggressive, attacking style than they did against the Saints. Furthermore, statistically at least, the Giants defense did well enough, allowing less than 300 yards of offense to the potent Cardinals attack. The 24 points that the defense gave up was not a great number, but they didn't allow much in the way of long drives. The Cardinals scored two TDs with a short field, one provided by lack of movement by the Giants offense and poor punting by Feagles which set them up with good field position at around midfield. The other was provided by the INT on the tipped ball which gave the Cardinals the ball at around the Giants 20. The Giants defense did get some pressure on Warner and did get off the field a few times when they had to. These are all the good signs. The worrying things to me are perhaps more about coaching than the players. For one thing, the Giants defense continued their poor performance inside the 20. The Giants are the worst team in the league at defending inside the 20. They have given up the highest percentages of TDs of any team in the league and the Cardinals scored 3 out of 4 trips inside the 20. Do Giants players get claustrophobic in cramped space when they have the goal line up at their backs?

The other worrying thing about the defense was the number of blown assignments and the holes and weaknesses that they have, despite the fact that they have some very good players at some positions. Giants have a weakness in speed at the LB position, especially OLB, which exposes them to the short zones in the passing game. They have a weakness at S in C.C. Brown in defending the middle depth zone in the middle of the field. They have weakness in the nickel and dime packages with Dockery who has played unevenly this year and with Bruce Johnson, who despite the second-week INT against Dallas has made some rookie mistakes in coverage. Offenses the last two weeks seem to be able to find these particular weaknesses and take advantage of them. Saints did it in week 6 and Cardinals did it a little bit in week 7. How do these stop?

This week, against the Cardinals, while the defense was a little better despite the exposures noted above, the offense was very uneven and unproductive. Four turnovers, including three INTs by Eli can undercut any production. But from the big picture, the Giants offense only manufactured 3 points. They scored one TD after a fumble recovery, when they were set up on the Cardinals 30 yard line. They scored another on the lucky tipped ball with a 60 yard catch and run by Nicks, so they manufactured legitimately, on their own, all of one FG. Here too, the one FG was a short one, where the Giants were stopped on 3rd down inside the 5 yard line and settled for 3 points. The Giants offense is among the worst in the league at scoring TDs inside the 20; they are 27th in the league in percentage of TDs. The discouraging thing about the offense was the lack of ability to move the ball coming out in the 2nd half. They failed to pick up a first down on their first three possessions of the 2nd half, with the third ending up with the INT that set up a Cardinals score. Lack of production inside the 20 and coming out in the second half, when they needed to take control of the game shows a lack of the offense to get it done when it matters. There are certain times when the game is critical and the outcome turns on a few possessions. That's not to say that a TD in the first quarter is worth fewer points than a TD in the 4th quarter. And if you need to go 80 yards for a score, 5 yards gained on your own 20 don't advance you to the goal line any less than 5 yards on the other team's 20. But lots of teams give up (or gain, if you're talking offense) yardage between the 20s. It's inside the 20 that the yards are tough, the defense stiffens, the play needs to be sharper in order to turn those yards into points. The old expression about yards inside the 20 is: "between the 20's is for show, inside the 20 is for dough". It definitely has some truth to it. If the Giants offense failed to produce in just this one game, we could let it go, but it has been a season-long problem. In fact, Giants were not too good at it last year either, so there is definitely an issue here.

There are two problems with the lack of offensive production inside the 20. One is personnel related and one is coaching related. On the personnel side, you have to be able to run the ball inside the 20 and it is much more difficult to do so because the DB-field is closer to the line of scrimmage and doesn't have to worry about being beaten deep by a speedy WR. They don't give a cushion to the WR and it's harder to throw in close for the same reason. The running style, therefore may have to be more pure power running. Despite the fact that the Giants have the biggest RB in the NFL in 265 lb. Brandon Jacobs, their OL is not a big, powerful road-grading group. Certainly they are not tiny, but they are more quick, athletic, smart and balanced than they are powerful straight ahead bruising blockers. Furthermore, last year the Giants had Michael Matthews, a strong blocking TE to help and this year have kept Darcy Johnson and Travis Beckum instead. To make matters worse, Hedgecock does not seem to be having as good a year as he had last year leading for Jacobs and I am not sure why. This may explain why the Giants are less than automatic on 3rd and short and why they don't run the ball effectively inside the 20. Giants are best when they spread the offense a little bit and use the athleticism and speed of the OL to make holes for the running game. It may also explain why Bradshaw seems just as effective as Jacobs in short yardage, maybe moreso. Giants run different plays out of different alignments for Bradshaw that better match the style of the OL with the style of the RB. Last week against the Cardinals, I thought Will Beatty played well and showed real promise on his future and why he deserved to be taken in the first round. But right now he is smaller than McKenzie and this may have hurt the short yardage a little bit. (A project for the future is to bulk Beatty up a lite bit.)

The other side of the offensive flaws against the Cardinals comes back to coaching. I am planning another post for tomorrow that analyzes some of the coaching weaknesses that I think the Giants are showing, but for now, in the context of red zone productivity, one big factor is play calling. If your offense can move the ball between the 20's and has all of the tools it needs to be a productive offense, your teams should be productive inside the 20 as well. Perhaps there is a style difference as noted above with the power running game and it is a little harder to score than it is to move the ball in the middle of the field. That means, your offense may not be at the top of the charts in percentage of TD's scored. But if you are among the worst, there is clearly a problem with the play calling and the schemes used. The Giants use little deception in the running game or the passing game at the goal line. They line up tight with two TEs way too often and the defense knows exactly what is coming. The Giants WRs are smallish so fade patterns are not attractive, but Boss could be used more and Nicks is a physical WR also that can catch in a crowd. When Jacobs was stopped on 3rd and 3 at the 2 yard line in the 4 quarter of the Cardinals game, I was 90% sure when they lined up that they would run that draw play. Speaking to my son after the game, he said the exact same thing. If we can figure it out, I think the Cardinals can also. If you were running on that down, it should have been two down territory and they should have gone for it on 4th down, but that is another discussion. (BTW - it was a bad spot from the ref; Jacobs may have made the first down or was at least much closer than 1 full yard away which is where the ball was spotted... could have influenced Coughlin's decision to go on 4th down.)

Executive summary: offensive and defensive problems are both a combination of personnel flaws and coaching weakness. I'll take a more detailed look at the coaching in another post, scheduled for tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Giants: Look ahead to Cardinals

DC Sheridan is a newbie

The players seem to give new DC Sheridan high marks for knowing his football, for being very detail oriented and for coaching well. They say that he has a different personality than Spagnuolo, who was fiery and emotional compared to Sheridan's somewhat more understated demeanor. The emotion part on its own may not be an issue: players can get pumped up in other means. But Sheridan's ice water personality, coming as it does after the fiery Spagnuolo might be a problem. Regardless of the way the players approach the game and the fact that they are professionals and need to play at a high level all of the time, the fact is that they simply don't. Players occasionally need a coach to get them riled up and with Spags and Starahan both gone, that absence may be a real detriment to the team.

More important to me, however is the in-game adjustments. Players themselves might not even necessarily even see those adjustments. The most time they spend with the coaches is during the week and their impression of preparation is what happens during practice from Wednesday until game time. If they have a good game plan that they can buy into, they think of the coach as having done a good job. There is so much confusion on the sideline and chaos on the field during the game that even if a play doesn't work, the players will not immediately know why it failed. For nearly every play that doesn't work, there may be a coach that didn't coach right and a player that didn't play right. For example, in last Sunday's game, would the DL say that the coach didn't call enough blitzes and relied on the DL for pass rush, or would they blame themselves and say, regardless of the defenses that was called, we, the DL should have beaten our man 1-on-1 and created the pass rush.

All of which leads me to my next point. Last week, Brees dropped backed to pass 34 times and the way I counted it when I reviewd the game, the Giants sent a blitzer, usually just 1 extra LB, 8 times or a bit less than 25% of the time. I guess that is not such a low percentage, but in retrospect, with the lack of pressure that the Giants were generating, he should have sent more blitzes and sent more people when he did, overloading a side and giving an advantage to the defense. All of that is water under the bridge, but you certainly hope the DC will learn from that and be aware of what is happening in the game and be able to adjust the plan on the fly.

Here's what really concerns me. When some newspaper reporters asked Sheridan if he should have blitzed more last week against the Saints, he sort of admitted guilt and said that in retrospect that might have been a good move. Then, to cover his a$$ a bit, he waffled and said something like "would've, should've, could've" as if to say this is purely hindsight and a second guess. He was asked further if he thought the pass happy Cardinals were licking their chops and were anxious to go after the Giants suddenly-discredited secondary like the Saints did last week. Sheridan said: "I'm sure they are". Then (here's the part that really has me burned) when Sheridan was asked if he would blitz more this week, he said that he would. Why would he say that? Just shut up. If a reporter asks you what the game plan is, you don't let anything out. Not a hint. The response should be something vanilla like: "our game plan always has a mixture of pressure packages included". Why would you give the opponents anything to hang their hat on, anything to analyze anything useful to assist their preparation. I am not sold on Sheridan yet as a DC. He has to prove himself before we accept him as a good hire.

Last week's beating by New Orleans could be a good thing for the Giants, coming early in the season, if they realize that they have to go into a game with healthy respect for their opponents. It could also be a good learning tool for Sheridan who should realize that he has to vary the attack on defense. Even if you are better than the guys lining up across scrimmage from you, there are always schemes to minimize your strengths and let the opponents accentuate their own strength. Even if you don't belive in blitzes and zone blitzes and would rather beat opponents 1-on-1, adding variations or adding unusual blitzes makes the OL uncertain about where you're coming from and gives you an advantage even on a play when you don't blitz.

Cardinals Game Plan

If I were the Cardinals, my game plan would be to use a fair amount of max protection schemes, keeping in a TE and/or RB to protect the QB, and running a bunch of 2 or 3 WR pass routes. With that, you can still run 2 WRs in patterns on one side of the field, and get a match up of Larry Fitzgerald on C. C. Brown. The Giants need to anticipate that the Cardinals will do this, which really should not be that difficult, because the Cardinals are all pass and don't run the ball effectively. Let's see what Sheridan comes up with to combat this. Play a lot of nickel, double team Fitzgerald and have an automatic blitz from the opposite side of the field when there are 2 WR pass routes so Warner does not have time to go deep to Fitzgerald.

Giants Offense

Jacobs and Bradshaw were both running well last week and Jacobs particularly looked more in step with his blockers. The Giants WRs are really developing into an excellent unit on the team. The emergence of 3 WRs ahead of Dixon allowed the Giants to get Hixon back as a kick returner, where he excels and where he had a great game last week. This will pay dividends for the Giants down the road. Thinking back to last year's game against the Cardinals in Arizona, I recall that Hixon had a huge game and several long returns that set up some Giants scores.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Giants: Saints game post mortem (sic)

Post mortem: adj [Latin after death] 1. happening, done or made after death 2. having to do with a post mortem examination -noun 1. same as post-mortem examination 2. a detailed examination or evaluation of an event just ended.

Okay, so maybe I am being a little dramatic with all the "death" references, but I think you get my point: Giants got absolutely toasted by the Saints last Sunday. First of all, let me apologize for not putting up my usual analysis of previous week's game earlier in the week. I don't want you to think that I'm avoiding because of the bad loss. I was just really, really busy this week. On to the post mortem:

There were a lot of disturbing things that came out of this game if you are a Giants fan. I am not even that upset about the final score, because in any sport, sometimes a game can just get away from you. Even though they are professionals, the emotion takes over and the team on top is just flying all over the field and the team on the bottom can't generate the juice to keep up. The facts are that despite Saints first half dominance, this was a 10 point game with 1 minute to go in the half. Giants had the ball out at their own 30 with 40 or 50 seconds left. They tried to get a bit closer by half time, but the blind side hit on Eli, the fumble recovery and the ensuing easy TD by the Saints made it a 17 point game and the Saints were uncatchable.

I am not trying to minimize the size of the beating; Giants gave up 7 TDs and 500 yards of offense. I am just saying that the final score is not as worrying as some of the things that transpired in the game. The biggest worries have to be:

  • weak play of the Giants secondary, particularly C.C. Brown at S
  • poor game plan by the coaches, especially on defense
  • failure to adjust the game plan to what was happening on the field, especially on defense
  • predictability of the Giants defense

Let's take these things one at a time:

Giants DB-field and pass defense:
Saints HC Payton came in with a game plan to throw deep and often and attack the Giants secondary, especially the weak S C.C. Brown and the poor-in-coverage LBs. This worked like a charm for Payton. Without Boley in the game, Blackburn and Clark were exposed whenever they were matched up in pass coverage. Brown was out of position way too often, but more worrying is that when he was in position, the more physical WRs got good position and made way-too-easy catches. Brown was specifically targeted and gave up 3 or 4 long balls. Some of the things that went wrong on Sunday can, theoretically at least, be fixed by good coaching. But a player that is too slow, not big enough and doesn't have good ball skills, can not be fixed no matter how good the coach is. I advised in my pregame that the Giants should not be afraid to use Wilkerson or Kehl at LB with their superior speed, athleticism and ability to play in space against the Saints passing attack. Giants stuck with Blackburn and Clark because they anticipated that the Saints would run the ball, and the Giants pass defense was pitiful. If I anticipated that the Saints would pass, how come the Giants coaches didn't?

Poor game plan by the coaches
On defense, the Giants anticipated that the Saints would try to punish the Giants with their much improved running attack. Therefore, they kept 3 LBs on the field except in obvious passing situations, they attacked with the S whenever they thought a run was coming and they stayed away from blitzing, no doubt because they feared a Saints RB would pop through a crease and gain big yardage. I don't understand the idea of devising a game plan that protects you against the weaker part of the opponent's offense; you would naturally want to stop what they do best and what can really hurt you. I understand that the Saints running attack is improved and they have more balance on offense, but Brees is one of the elite QBs in the league, they have a good OL, and speedy skill position players on offense - it seems natural to have a game plan to stop the pass. When you have a game coming up against Michael Jordan's Bulls, you don't devise a game plan to try and stop Bill Wennington, because he has really improved as a C since last year. But most upsetting about the game plan and game management by the DC, is that even given that the Saints surprised the Giants by passing instead of running, there was no in-game adjustment by the coaches when the Saints started throwing, early, deep and often. Giants defensive team said that they weren't physically beaten, they got sucked in by the Saints play action fakes and were surprised that they didn't run. That is all coaching. Bad game plan; lack of awareness of the different plan that Saints were using and inability to adjust and change.

The second part of the poor game plan was the pass defense and pass rush strategy. When DC Spagnuolo was running this defense, he was very creative and aggressive. He devised a number of exotic blitzes and attacked from every different angle. Occasionally, he would tone the blitzing down, if for example, the Giants were playing a QB that was not a great pure passer but was an excellent runner. For example, if you were playing a QB like Michael Vick (pre-dog fighting) you would be more worried about him scrambling out of the pocket and making a play with his feet or giving the WRs time to make a play down field. Spagnuolo would rush conservatively, not too many odd-angle blitzes and the DL would be conservative by staying in their rush lanes. Keep the QB pinned in the pocket and make him beat you by passing the ball. You would also keep extra DBs back, keep the DBs deep, play more zone, have the DBs keep everything in front of them and make the QB have to beat you with pass after pass down the field. That's a Michael Vick or Donovan McNabb game plan. That's NOT a Drew Brees game plan. Yet, that's what Sheridan came up with. Virtually no blitzes, and when the Giants did blitz, most of the time it was a conventional bring-the-extra-LB. Furthermore, the Giants DL, whom I had been praising as coming with many loops, stunts, twists and DL games did nothing of that in this game. It was 90% straight ahead bull rushes. It completely diminishes the pass rush skills and style of this Giants DL that has a speedy Osi, an incredibly athletic Tuck at the other DE and an almost equally athletic Kiwanuka as the 3rd DE. Even the 4th DE Tollefson is a pure speed guy. Once again, even if you came into the game with that game plan, and you don't want to second guess that it was obviously the wrong strategy, the coaches have to make some adjustments after the first half when you see that your defensive plan has given up 34 points, 350 yards of offense and Brees was completely unbothered in the pocket.

Predictability of the defensive scheme
Payton was able to get the matchups that he wanted simply by lining up his players. He didn't need sophisticated motion. He didn't need to go to completely different formations or personnel groupings. He didn't need to overload one side with complex formations. He knew exactly what kind of zone defense the Giants would be in, line up his WRs and TE is specific locations and got exactly the matchups that he wanted. I am particularly thinking of the time that Antonio Pierce had to cover a WR running right down the middle of the field and the matchup of big WR Colston on tiny Dockery and Brown all game long.

The Giants may have been exposed on defense with the weak play of Brown and Dockery. The return of Ross, Boley and Canty may improve the physical parts of what's wrong. What concerns me more is the poor coaching job that the Giants seem to have done, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Sheridan in an unproven commodity. Let's see if he can recover from this. The book is still out on him.

Offense and other things

Eli just missed two or three deep balls which could have really changed the tempo and feel of the game. He overthrew Steve Smith by about 1 foot on an easy TD and underthrew Manningham and Nicks on two other throws. I am going to give him a break because he has been throwing so well this year and he was very good on other throws. Jacobs seemed to be running more decisively. I don't want to hammer the offensive game plan, which was to try to throw deep on the Saints, because the Giants did have a lot of opportunities and just missed making some of these plays. But the Giants did not run as much as they usually do, and you wonder if they might have been more effective running a little more.


The refereeing on Sunday was about as good as the umpiring has been in the MLB playoffs. (Digression: in game 4 of Yankees v. Angels, Swisher was out by a foot on the pickoff; he did not leave 3rd base early when he tagged up but was called out on the appeal play; and Cano and Posada were both tagged out by the catcher on the rundown play.) Specific ridiculous calls in the Giants-Saints game: the 40 yard PI called against Corey Webster when he was looking back for the ball and his feet got tangled with the WR. It was the text book definition of a non-PI. The phantom holding call against Shaun O'Hara on the TD pass to Jacobs that was called back. Even Troy Aikman said that there was not a single OL-man that was anywhere near holding on that play. And because it was a scramble, the OL-men were out in the open there was no excuse of poor visibility by the ref of the play. Finally, the offensive PI call against Domenik Hixon was also a textbook definition of what a legal pass route is, and Hixon was interfered with on the other end of that play. I am not saying that the Giants would have won with good refereeing: bottom line is still that they yielded 7 TD's and 500 yards of offense. I'm just saying that the Giants had some opportunities to make some plays and the game could have been a lot closer.

Giants WRs

The big Giants worry coming into the season was the quality of the WR corps. The emergence of excellent leaders in Manningham and Smith has been a revelation. Hixon is playing well and because of a reduced load can be a real weapon in the return game. Rookie Nicks looks outstanding and may end up being the best of the bunch.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Giants: NFL Parity

The old saying we rely on to trumpet parity in the league "on any given Sunday..." doesn't seem to apply this year. Consider the following. There are 9 teams in the league that have 0 or 1 win on the season so far through week 5. There are also 9 teams that have lost no more than 1 game, with 5 of them undefeated. The old mantra that if one of the worst few teams in the league were to play one of the best teams in the league, the best team would win most but not all of the time. Somehow the worst team would find a way to squeeze out 1 or 2 wins out of a hypothetical 10 games played. I don't think you can make the same assertion with this group. After watching the Raiders play the Giants last week, and seeing the shocking disparity in talent, coaching and athleticism; and that with 4 of the Giants defensive starters out, parity is simply not in the league this year. The line between winning and losing in the NFL, they used to say is very thin. This year it's about a mile wide. I don't think the Giants and Raiders are very close this year, for an example, nor is it close with the other haves and have-nots in the league. The St Louis Rams could play the Indianapolis Colts 20 times and I can't envision any circumstance where the Rams would win or come within 2 TDs in any of the 20 games. Continuing the comparison with another team, Rams have scored 34 points total in 5 games this year and the New Orleans Saints, highest scoring team in the league are averaging 36 points per game. Let me repeat that for emphasis: average points per game over 4 games for the Saints is greater than total points in 5 games for the Rams.

With so many awful teams in the league, it makes it difficult to assess how good any of the other teams are based solely on their record. You have to inspect the schedule and not just look at the straight up won-loss record of each team. You have to adjust the record to the level of competition before you can evaluate how good a team is. For example, the Giants only victory against a team with a winning percentage came against the 3-2 Cowboys. In fact, the Cowboys themselves have no wins against a plus .500 team and have lost their only two games against plus .500 teams. By contrast, the Saints have beaten the Eagles and the Jets, both of whom have winning records, so the game this weekend could be a real good test for the Giants.

By the same token we do have to consider some statistics and understand that averages need to be balanced by standard deviations. I don't want to bore anyone with statistics, but the standard deviation gives a measure of how varied the individual samples are. For example, suppose student 1 gets grades of 85 and 75 on his two exams and student 2 gets grades of 100 and 60. Both have an average of 80, but the first student has a lower standard deviation, meaning in essence that he is more reliable or predictable, because his scores are bunched closer to the mean (average). The Saints are averaging 36 points per game and Drew Brees has 9 TD passes. But they ran up the score against the Lions in the opener and scored a ton of points against the Eagles fueled by 3 turnovers, each of which gave them a short field and 21 points. They scored 45 and 48 in those two games. However, they were fairly quiet on offense against the Jets, with the defense scoring 14 of their 24 points. The Giants, by contrast are averaging fewer points per game than the Saints, but seem to have had more consistent offensive output from game to game than the Saints. Of Brees' 9 TD passes, 6 came in one game, the opener against the Lions. I don't know what this all means and you certainly can't use it to predict the outcome of the game Sunday. It doesn't mean the Saints are overrated, and it certainly doesn't mean that their offense is not dangerous. It is just interesting to be aware of the statistics a little more carefully.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Giants: Saints game notes and observations

Giants defense should not be afraid to use Gerris Wilkerson this week at times and utilize his speed in the pass defense.

Giants should also play a fair amount of nickel this week to defend the pass, even when it's not obvious passing down-and-distance. Webster will be 1-on-1 with Colston often which will free the other DBs to help on Shockey and Bush in the passing game. Giants will need a strong game from Terrell Thomas and Kevin Dockery. Obviously, the safeties have to play well.

Saints are apparently having a little injury difficulty at their LT position. It becomes very important for the Giants to exploit that and get pressure on Brees.

Eli is apparently very excited about playing in his hometown of New Orleans. (Or as excited as he can get.)

Eli jokes that he gets Darren Sharper nominated to the pro bowl every year by inflating his INT numbers. When Sharper gets inducted into the HOF, Eli should introduce him since he will have had so much to do with him getting there. Sharper had 4 INTs against Eli as a member of the Vikings and 2 returned for TDs.

As much as this Saints game is a tough test for the Giants defense, it will equally be a tough test for the Giants offense. You have to figure that even if the Giants defense plays well, the offense will need 28+ points to win the game. The Saints have been playing good defense this year under their new DC, Gregg Williams. By now, there should be enough film on the Saints defense that Gilbride can come up with a decent game plan. Gregg Williams had been the DC at Washington and the Giants played against his defense twice per year when they played the Redskins. I am sure there will be some wrinkles and of course there are different players, but at least it is a defense that the Giants are not completely unfamiliar with.

Realistically, this could be the game where the Giants long list of defensive injuries comes back to bite them. Remember that Canty, Boley, Ross, Phillips and Alford are all out. That is four starters and one player who was slated to get significant playing time and be in the regular DL rotation. Virtually every other defense in the NFL would completely fall apart if they lost close to 1/2 of their starter's playing time minutes. The fact that the Giants defense has not fallen apart is a testament to how good and deep they are but at some point this has to come back and hurt them. Perhaps it's against the powerful offenses and elite teams of the league that the defensive injuries have a negative impact.
Every expert I have seen so far is picking the Saints to win this week. (NFL Network Total Access; NFL Network Playbook; even Phil Simms on SHO network - Inside the NFL). It's hard to bet against it, with the Saints being at home.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Giants: Defense


I have noticed the following subtle changes in the Giants defensive strategy under Bill Sheridan as opposed to the way DC Steve Spagnuolo used to call a game in the last two years. Spagnuolo would have a lot of unusual blitz packages, including a reliance on a fairly heavy dose of zone blitzes. Personally, I never liked the zone blitz, but I have to admit that if there is a team that has personnel to make it effective, it is the Giants. A zone blitz is when the defense lines extra guys up at the line of scrimmage, usually overloading one side and brings a few guys, usually DBs on a blitz and drops back a DE or two in coverage. The idea is to confuse the blocking patterns of the OL, make them miss an assignment, or blow by the OL before they can adjust and slid to the open space to pick up the unexpected blitzer, because they are not blocking the DL-man in front of them and they are not sure which of the extra guys will blitz. It can be really effective and with the Giants very fast, athletic DEs, they have a good chance to make it work. Kiwanuka, Tuck and Osi are all able to cover a TE or RB for a few yards before the pressure gets to the QB. The problem with the scheme is twofold, IMO. First, if you don't get to the QB, you're in big trouble. You might say that you're always in trouble when you bring extra people to blitz and don't get to the QB, because then you have single coverage all over the field and less help for a WR who beats his man. But it's particularly true with a zone blitz, because you have DEs dropping back in pass coverage and they are unable to track a fast receiver for more than a few yards. With a normal blitz, even if you are singled up in your coverage and at a disadvantage, at least you have DBs in the coverage and have a fighting chance. Second, you are not optimizing your personnel. You have pass rushers in coverage and pass defenders rushing. When zone blitzes first came into vogue and caught offenses by surprise, they were very effective. By now, OLs have learned how to deal with them, practice against a variety of these blitzes and it is not as much of a problem for OL's to deal with. Pass rushers should rush and pass defenders should defend. I see Sheridan using the zone blitzes less and relying on the more traditional blitz packages - bringing a LB or CB - when he goes to a pressure package. My friend Ray described it as follows: the defense uses less gimmicks now and relies more on the base personnel beating their man in traditional 1-on-1 battles to have the defense succeed. I think he's right. When you have outstanding personnel in the DL like the Giants do, why not rely on them beating their man. If you can generate pressure from 4 or 5 without blitzing 2 or 3, you are better protected on the back end.

Having said all of that, it is also possible that Sheridan treated the last 3 games like preseason. Giants were playing such inept, anemic offenses that Sheridan didn't need to open the playbook and could play much more conservative and vanilla, not exposing the entire defensive playbook to the rest of the league on game film. Perhaps when Giants play the tougher part of the schedule and the stronger offenses, Sheridan will get a little more creative and run some slightly more exotic schemes. I don't think so, but it's possible.

Another subtle change that I see is that it appears to me that the Giants DEs are taking slightly wider splits, lining up a bit wider than they did in the past, especially on passing downs. This makes sense for them, for several reasons. The Giants DEs are very fast, rather than big and powerful; setting up wider gives them an advantage over the potentially slower DEs and lets them use their speed. Giants use fewer straight bull rushes than they used to which also fits this scheme and pattern. Furthermore, lining the DEs up wider, gives more space in the middle of the DL and makes it less congested. This gives the opportunity to Tuck to play in more space when the Giants slide him in at DT on passing downs. One more point: IMHO,Kiwanuka seems to have surpassed Osi as the 2nd best DE on the team. On his stat sheet, I think he only has 2 sacks, but he seems to be pressuring the QB more and making plays in the running game as well. The Giants DL uses a lot of stunts and loops when rushing the passer which also plays to their strength of athleticism and speed.

Looking ahead to the Saints game, this may be the first game where the Giants really miss S Kenny Phillips. Your team needs really good S play against a great passing offense, especially one that has a dynamic, pass catching TE like Shockey. C.C. Brown has played a little better replacing Phillips than he did earlier, but he is still more of a run support safety than he is a speedy pass defender. The guy that the Giants signed from the Packers, Rouse, has the same reputation as someone who is better against the run and weak against the pass, which is why the Packers cut him, BTW. Phillips was so good, coming into his own as one of the top safeties in the game. Brees and the Saints offense will surely put lots of pressure on the Giants DB-field and will test the safeties in particular to see if they can stand up to the passing attack. Missing Boley against the Saints also weakens the defense; he was playing very well and has really good speed, playing well in space and an effective pass defender.

It will be really interesting to see how the Giants defense attacks this game. If they stick to their current defensive schemes, they will rely primarily on a pass rush from their DL sprinkled with conventional blitzes from LBs and DBs. Alternatively, they could take a page out of the Rex Ryan playbook and attack with all sorts of blitzes from every direction. The Jets defense was very effective at bothering and slowing down the Saints offense and the Giants could dial up a risky, aggressive game plan.


Is there a safety on some NFL roster that fills the Giants need for speed at the position and can be had in a trade for Sinorice Moss?

Note to HC Coughlin and the ST coach Quinn: please get Hixon back there returning punts and sit down Moss.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Giants: Raiders review

Not much to analyze about the game itself, once again because of the level of competition, but there are some observations we can make about the league. These last three games have been like preseason games. Giants starters were on the bench in the second half and the greatest tension was whether the Giants would hold onto their shutout against Tampa Bay. Every year we have lived by the mantra of parity in the NFL and "on any given Sunday...". That doesn't seem to apply this year. The league seems to be much more stratified this year than in past years, almost like an unofficial caste system. There are a few very good teams, a bunch of average teams and several really awful teams; in fact there seem to be more awful teams in the league than there have been in the past. Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Oakland and St. Louis are just dreadful teams. Cleveland, Buffalo and Detroit are maybe a hair better than the worst group, but not by much. I can't figure out where to place the Titans who won 13 games last year, and are 0-5 this year without that much change in their roster, except for the notable departure of Haynseworth. Forgetting the Titans for a moment, it is really hard to evaluate the middle teams in the league, or even the superior teams in the league, at this early point in the season, because the record is so dependent on which teams they may have played. For example, the cumulative record of the teams the Giants have played is 6-19. However, the Giants have clubbed their opponents and it's pretty easy to say that they are good team, though it is hard to judge just how good they really are. However, where it's really hard to judge is the teams that are 2-3 or 3-2. Consider the Cowboys, who are 3-2, for example. At first glance, you might say that the Cowboys at 3-2 are a decent team with a decent record. However, the Cowboys lost their only two games against good teams and their 3 victories have come against the Chiefs (0-5), the Bucs (0-5) and the Panthers (1-3). The 2-3 Redskins only wins came in very close games against the awful Rams and Bucs and their losses are against Carolina, Detroit and the Giants. You are what your record says you are; I get that. But 2-3 against the lame opponents that they have played is revealing. Looking at it another way, the Redskins 4 opponents besides the Giants have not won a single game this year against another team. The record of the Redskins opponents is 2-17 and those two wins came against the Redskins themselves. So the Redskins opponents (except for Giants) are winless against the rest of the league. They must really stink. The Redskins even lost to the Lions and the Panthers, the only wins that those two teams have.

After each of these last 3 wins that the Giants have had against the "have-nots" in the league, the experts proclaimed that the new "worst team in the NFL" is the team that the Giants had just drubbed. These teams then went on to play almost-competitive games against their other opponents, so maybe the Giants are just really good and made them look awful.

This analysis makes my head hurt and it's really pointless. We will find out who the cream in the league is after a few more weeks when the teams with better records start playing each other.

I always try to be balanced and fair in my analysis and never automatically overestimate the worth or standing of players on the Giants. I will say this: there is no QB in the league that is playing at a higher level than Eli right now, with the possible exception of the other QB with the same last name. Eli was brilliant on Sunday. While the Raiders may be a bad team, their defense is actually quite good. They have a very strong DL with a pro-bowl player in Seymour. They have the consensus best CB in football and they have very athletic LBs. Their defense was around the middle of the league coming in to the game, which means that they are better than they really seem to be, because they get no help from their pitiful offense. So while winning the game was not a great accomplishment, scoring 44 points and getting nearly 500 yards of offense was good.

Here's how dominant the Giants defense was against the awful Raiders offense. Aside from the obvious stats that you know about - Raiders 124 yards in offense, 2.8 average yards per carry and 3 turnovers - the Giants had 6 sacks. That's a big number for one game, but you have to normalize it to the number of pass attempts. Raiders threw only 13 passes, which means that the Giants' 6 sacks came on only 19 called passing plays by the Raiders. Nearly 1/3 of the Raiders passing plays ended in sacks. Amazing.

Eli looked very loose and comfortable and was as sharp as he's been all year. The encouraging thing for me is that his heel loosened up and got better as the game went along. How do I know that, you may ask? I'll tell you. Eli's first 3 passes were a little high and wobbly because when he was planting, he was not putting all of his weight on that back foot and he was protecting it a little bit. Consequently his throws were too much arm and not enough body. Once he got secure with his foot and the pain subsided, he was able to put all his weight on the back foot, use the momentum of his weight coming forward for the speed on the ball, so that he could use his shoulder and arm to guide the ball and provide its accuracy. I know exactly how this feels, having had a case of plantar fasciitis myself. The 45 yard throw to Steve Smith was perfect as was the 30 yard TD to Manningham.

Darcy Johnson looked good catching a ball or two, but mostly blocking effectively for some of Bradshaw's runs. Bradshaw looked excellent and even though he seems to be making the big plays rather than Jacobs, the Giants have an excellent rotation at RB and they should not change it. Wait until Danny Ware gets back in the mix - the passing game will get even better.

Giants coaches are very positive on their young WR's and remain extremely high on Ramses Barden who has barely gotten on the field.

I think we have seen enough of Sinorice Moss on punt returns to know that he is not great. When are the Giants going to start putting Hixon back there?

Terrell Thomas is improving every week and has excellent cover skills.

This upcoming game against the Saints is going to be interesting. More about that later in the week.

A word or two about the Jets-Dolphins game Monday night: Sanchez looked really good, but Henne for the Dolphins looked like the superior QB. Better arm strength and more accuracy. Braylon Edwards looked outstanding for the Jets and while I am happy with the Giants WR situation, Edwards would have looked good in Giants blue. Rex Ryan probably learned his clock management skills from Herm Edwards. Perhaps he thinks that if you don't use your time outs in the 2nd half of one game, you can use 6 in the 1st half of the next game.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Giants: Eli sits out practice

Eli sat out practice Wednesday and Thursday nursing his sore plantar fascia and got treatment on it from the training staff instead. Raiders seem to have as many injuries as the Giants do. They are averaging 10 points per game on the season and are missing their starting RT, their starting RG Robert Gallery and their biggest offensive weapon - RB Darren McFadden. In the good news department, Hixon is practicing on a limited basis and has a good chance of playing this Sunday. Canty has also started to do a little more work with the trainers and his return is at least on the horizon. I am guessing he will be out 2 more weeks and will be able to return after that. Ross is still not doing any work. Hamstring injuries are somewhat unusual for CB's, because they use their hamstrings all the time while backpedaling. But I guess that means that when they injure them, it's really a bad injury.

The reason I brought up Robert Gallery by name is that he has a place in Giants history. Gallery was the can't-miss, sure fire future HOF-er, Anthony Munoz / Orando Pace successor as the next great LT, coming out of college the same year Eli did, in 2004. Kerry Collins was the Giants QB and the Giants had a miserable year in 2003, in great measure because of their awful OL. Everyone loved Kerry Collns as the tough QB who had taken the Giants to the Superbowl after the 2000 season. Rather than taking one of the QBs available in the draft, everyone wanted Ernie Accorsi to trade up to be in position to take Gallery. Give Kerry Collins some protection in the way of an improved OL, get him some better weapons at WR and along with Tiki Barber and Jeremy Shockey, the Giants would be back in contention in two shakes of a lamb's tail. Al Davis was not going to trade down to give away Gallery and the Raiders drafted Gallery with the second pick in that draft. Accorsi evaluated Eli as a championship caliber QB and pulled the trigger on the Rivers for Manning trade. Gallery has been a near-bust. He started out as RT with the long term plan of moving him to LT when he matured and developed. However, he did not develop, played poorly as RT and rather than being moved out to LT, he was moved to the interior of the OL as RG. He has not played particularly well there either and is holding on to his job mostly because of the big contract he signed. Rather than being the next Anthony Munoz or Oralndo pace, it looks like he's closer to the next Tony Mandrich

I am surprised at exactly how open the Giants have been with Eli's injury. They have advertised his limitations in moving around, in planting and throwing. They should simply say - foot injury. Why give teams the notion that he is having trouble moving and invite them to prepare a blitz-laden defensive game plan that will test his mobility. Let them figure it out for themselves.

Eli has been playing at a very high level this year. His reads and decision making have been very sharp. His passes have been very accurate, his ball placement has been excellent and his deep balls have also be on the money. I still don't get why all the experts automatically place both Roethlisberger and Rivers ahead of Eli as a QB. It used to be Romo that was also ahead of Eli but he's starting to come down a notch or two.

Boss hurt his ankle and knee last week. While he does not have the boot on to immobilize the foot, he is also not practicing and will probably be out this Sunday. If he is out, the word is that rookie T Beatty will play TE in the 2-TE formations. If so, Darcy Johnson will get some balls thrown to him this week and maybe Travis Beckum will become a little more involved in the passing game.

I really would not mind if the Giants started David Carr this week. Giants should have enough to beat the Raiders even with Carr in there. Covering the point spread of 15 1/2 is another matter, but I don't think the coaching staff is worrying about that.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Giants: Chiefs game and random observations

I mentioned once before that the blocking by the TE's has really improved and Sunday against the Chiefs was no exception. Boss has steadily improved and was good last year, but Darcy Johnson made some excellent seal blocks on running plays, hooking the LB so Jacobs could get to the outside. He also got out in front of Nicks on his TD run and made a good block on the LB. As he continues to improve, the running game will also become more productive.

These injuries are really going to hurt the Giants. Alford and Phillips are, so far, the only season-long injuries, but when you are missing so much starting talent, it's got to diminish the defense. We thought that the Giants could get by and manage the injuries because they were coming during the soft part of the schedule and the injured players would return to the lineup later. However, in one week we will be starting the meaty part of the schedule and Boley, Canty and Ross are still out. Think about that. Canty, Ross, Boley and Phillips represent 4 starters on defense, and Alford represents a 5th from the regular rotation. Most teams would fall apart with so many starters from their defense missing, even against weaker teams in the league. Look what happened to the Steelers defense with just Polamalu missing and to the Colts defense last year when Sanders went out. Giants will feel the pinch eventually, no doubt against the better teams in the league.

I can't wait until Danny Ware comes back. I like Bradshaw, but I think Ware is a smoother, more polished runner, maybe even a smidge faster than Bradshaw and can make some plays in the passing game.

Trade Sinorice Moss to Cleveland. (Can't take credit for this - it was my brother's idea.) Now that the Browns have traded Braylon Edwards to the Jets, they may feel the need to add a deep threat to their corps of WR's. I still think Moss can be a good deep threat and he might be an asset to the Giants, but realistically, he is not getting enough playing time or having enough balls thrown to him to make it worth it for the Giants to keep him. Giants now have 4 very productive WR's in Manningham, Smith, Hixon and Nicks. They have used Hagan as a 5th WR situationally at times instead of Moss and they still have Barden sitting on the bench. They have enough depth there, that they should consider trading him. The Giants could get draft picks from the Browns or could try to get Brodney Pool, the Browns' starting S, which would would give the Giants a little depth at the position to back-fill for loss of Phillips.

Giants are 16 point favorites over the Raiders. The Raiders must really stink - there are questions about whether the starting QB will play for the Giants and how effective he will be in light of the plantar fasciitis and they are still favored by more than 2 TDs.

JaMarcus Russell is playing poorly; he has a powerful but inaccurate arm. His completion percentage is around 40%. The whispers also are that he's very heavy, completely out of shape and is not the most studious of QB's.

Romo held up 3 fingers, signalling 3rd down to his team after his incomplete 4th down play that ended the game against the Broncos on Sunday. He claims that he knew it was really 4th down and he was trying to trick the officials into thinking that they had one more play. Gamesmanship. Yeah, right.

Interesting that the J-E-T-S Jets, Jets, Jets got Braylon Edwards from the Browns in a trade. With all the focus on Giant WRs in the off-season, Braylon Edwards was on the Giants shopping list of possible players to upgrade the WR unit. Giants declined because Reese thought that the Browns were asking too much. Jets gave up a starting WR in Stuckey, their best ST player and two draft choices - a 3rd and 6th. Comparable value from the Giants might have been Hixon, Kehl, and two draft picks for a player that you are renting for one year. In the Jets case, they are renting him for 12 games, so it really is a lot to give up. Of course if it transforms their offense by giving Sanchez a legitimate deep threat, moves defenses off the line of scrimmage and opens up the running game, it might be worth it. By making this trade, Jets are advertising that they are reaching for the brass ring this year. Giving up so many players for 12 games worth of a player is not a long term move; it is a win-now proposition. In the end, perhaps this will turn out to be a good move for the Jets, and I think it was the right thing for the Giants to turn down. While Edwards has size and speed, he has had only one good year in the pros. He also has this fighting incident hanging over him, a league investigation and possible suspension. After the Plaxico experience, I don't think the Giants want a player with some baggage. We'll see.

Giants also announced that Kehl had surgery on a broken finger and will probably be out a week or two. Kehl has been spectacular on ST for the Giants. Last Sunday he forced a fumble on the opening KO and recovered it. On the opening KO of the 2nd half, he smelled out the onside kick and recovered it. I doubt the NFL keeps records of these things, but what is the probability that a LB will recover both KO's of each half in the same game.

Goff is also playing well on ST and made a huge hit on one of the Chiefs KO returns.

Hypothetical I was discussing with my brother this morning: The score is tied in the middle of the 3rd qtr. It's 4th and 5 on the opposing team's 38 yard line. It's a 55 yard kick, so you're out of FG range. Do you punt or do you go for it? Feagles is a good punter and could probably pin them down on the 10. Your defense is good, so if you stop them with a 3-and-out you get the ball back, probably losing about 15-20 yards of field position. On the other hand, your offense is very good, efficient at making 3rd-and-makeable distances so maybe you put the ball in Eli's hands and risk giving up the ball to the opponents with good field position, if the offense doesn't pick up the 1st down. Moreover, if you were to punt, and Feagles kick is slightly off so he boots it into the end zone, you gain only 19 yards of field position. What's your call?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Giants: Boley injury

Giants announced today that Micahel Boley's knee was scoped to clear out a partial meniscus tear. He is expected to be out 4 weeks. I have noted in my blog how well Boley had been playing and while the Giants should be able to survive this week against Oakland, his absence will surely be missed against New Orleans and their high powered passing offense. (Giants are 16 point favorites against Oakland and the health of their QB is in question.) In particular, one of the reasons that the Giants signed Boley was to improve the LB pass defense and challenge the good pass catching TE's in the league. In particular, Giants play Whitten twice per year and Boley will be instrumental in that contest. The TEs Giants play in the 4 weeks Boley will be out are: {{who-cares}} of the Raiders; Shockey of the Saints; {{non-descript-TE-with-3-catches}} on the Cardinals; and Brent Celek on the Eagles. Those are 2 very good TEs and two invisible ones. If Boley were to come back in the 5th week after his injury, he would defend the very dynamic TE Antonio Gates on the Chargers. While it would be nice to have Boley back for that game against Gates and the Chargers, it is also the last game before the Giants week 10 bye. Depending on how things look at that time, it might be nice to sit Boley one extra week, because then he would get 6 straight weeks of rest and rehab and he should be able to finish the season strong.

I am hopeful that the Giants will give Wilkinson some playing time at Boley's slot while he's out. I have said before on this blog what a good athlete I think Wilkinson is and how good he is defending the TE. But coming out of training camp, Blackburn was the starter, so I guess the Giants coaches favor him. Kehl has played well on ST so they may want to give him a shot also. Against the pass catching TE's Blackburn is less effective, because he is not as fast and doesn't play as well in space. He tweaked his ankle, so that may slow him down a bit more. Wilkninson and Kehl should get some playing time.

My friend Ray pointed out that the Giants injured players on defense: Alford, Phillips, Ross and now Boley are very talented players and their absence would diminish any defense. At some point, no matter how much depth you have, you get hurt when starters go down. If you throw in Canty to that group, you have 5 excellent players that could probably form the core of a very good defense somewhere in the NFL.

I know there is the 'on any given Sunday' mantra, you want to give your team the best chance to win every game, and therefore these injuries are really damaging. But really - even with these injuries, if they are not season ending and Ross, Boley and Canty can come back in the second half of the season, the Giants will get an infusion of talent for the hoped-for playoff run. Even with these injuries and even though every coach likes to think only one week ahead, Giants still have a good chance to make the playoffs and hope they can get healthy then.

Giants: Chiefs game review

We can't really take too much away from this Chiefs game in terms of the quality of the Giants play, mostly because of the level of the opponent. I thought this was the sloppiest game that the Giants have played of the first 4. They just didn't look very sharp to me offensively. Certainly, they did not play poorly and they had the fortune of playing a team that has the talent level of a Division I College football team, but they just did not look as crisp as they could be. Maybe it was the dropped passes by Manningham, a few ever-so-slightly-off-target throws by Eli or a little bit of plodding and unevenness in the running game that makes me feel that way. But the truth is I am nitpicking here, and I don't want to sound like I am a whining fan who complains when his team doesn't win every game 41-0. The good news offensively is that the Giants running game and Jacobs looked a little bit stronger than the week before. Eli overall threw very accurate passes and made excellent decisions. Steve Smith looks like he can not be defended, leading the NFL in catches, yards and TD receptions. It's really great when your best WR is the second or third fastest guy on the team and not the main deep threat. The defense will not want want to roll a S over the top of Smith and directly double-cover him, because Manningham, Moss and the other deep threats will kill the defense. Nicks looked great on his TD catch, showing moves, speed, instinct and high football IQ knowing when to juke, when to sprint and when to stop and juke again. Maybe Reese knew what he was doing by not trading up in the first round to get another WR and sticking with Nicks instead. I have to attribute this idea to my brother who absolutely thinks this was the right strategy and sees a huge upside with Nicks. If Nicks really steps up, the Giants will have 5 or 6 productive WR's to share the load and this has several corollary benefits: (1) just like the Giants found out with the DL rotation, every WR stays fresh, can run hard on every play and will have plenty left in the tank in the 4th qtr (2) if one of the WR's has an injury or does something really stupid, like... I don't know... shoot himself in the thigh, it won't cripple the Giants offense because there will be good depth and someone else to step in and be productive (3) if the WR load is shared among several WR's, Giants coaches will not feel compelled to protect Hixon and may put him back returning kickoffs and punts... he is the Giants best return man (4) finally, defenses will have more trouble preparing for the Giants offense because of the variety of styles, personnel packages and route combinations that the different WR's run.

The other piece of good news from the Chiefs game is how well the defense played. We can't give them the highest grades because of the level of competition, but even if the opposing offense was a weak NFL offense, the Giants defense was absolutely smothering, giving up very few yards, points and plays. Michael Boley is playing better every game and he was great against KC. He has such great speed, is a good hitter and seems to have a great instinct for the game, is always around the ball. He had a sack on Sunday and had few other tackles for losses. For the last few years, the Giants defense was good with average LB play. Pierce played well, but the corner LBs, were average, especially against the pass. Now, the Giants seem to have a real play maker at the LB position and it makes their defense that much more dangerous. It is really unfortunate that they lost Phillips at S because he was coming on as a star at the S position. Having stars who can make great plays at the skill positions on defense, when they are backing up a stud DL, makes the Giants defense really strong.

Michael Boley came out of the KC game with a knee injury. He may be out 2 weeks, which is really unfortunate, because the Giants may need him against the big time passing offense of the Saints in two weeks. I would not let him near the practice field this week or the game this Sunday against Oakland and hope that he can recover in time for Shockey in New Orleans in two weeks.

Eli's heel injury is not terrible, but it's not great either. When I first saw him trip and avoid putting weight on his heel during the pass play, I immediately feared that it was an achilles tendon rupture. When he was able to stand up and walk with a slight limp, I knew it was not that, and my second guess was that it was plantar fasciitis, which is what it turned out to be. The reason this was my guess is because I had the same injury a few years ago, and Eli acted the same way that I did when the injury first appeared. In my case, it was caused by a bone spur in my heel that caused irritation and inflammation in the heel, right where the tendon inserts into the achilles heel. The good news is that a mixture of anti-inflammatory drugs, stretching exercises for the achilles tendon and the arch, and orthotics for the shoes - a heel pad which raises the heel and relaxes the achilles tendon by not requiring you to stretch it to its maximum extension - are all very effective treatments. It does take a while to go away and this could bother Eli for the rest of the season. It may not be disabling, but it could affect his throwing and accuracy, since so much of passing mechanics come from your feet and your base. As my friend Ray pointed out to me, it could also affect his mobility somewhat and teams will probably blitz more to test him this way.

How good are the Giants? On the one hand, they are 4-0, have dominated the weak teams and won the one close game they were in against the Cowboys. On the other hand, although the Giants are 4-0, the cumulative record of the teams they have beaten is 4-12. The Cowboys win was thought to be a great victory by the Giants against a sure playoff team and a Superbowl contender, on the road no less. In retrospect, now that the Cowboys are 2-2, the bloom is off that rose and the Cowboys may be a fairly pedestrian team this year. Similarly, the Redskins who lost to the Lions and barely beat the Bucs, who the Giants crushed, don't exactly look like an upper echelon, elite team right now. We all know the old saying - you can only play the teams on your schedule, but if you want to be honest and analyze the level of competition, it may not have been so good. Giants will get a real stiff test starting in week 6 against the Saints and we will learn much more about the quality and character of this team.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Giants: some random stats and observations

Giants record in games that have mattered since the start of the 2007 season looks like this:

2007 regular season: 10-6
2007 post season: 4-0
2008 regular season: 12-4
2008 post season: 0-1
2009 regular season to date: 3-0

total: 29-11.

That's a hair under .750 winning percentage. Not bad.

Cowboys without TO are morphing into a run-first team, which probably suits their personnel well. The OL is huge but not that fast and are probably better run blockers than they are pass blockers at this point in their careers. Flozell Adams got fined for another trip this weekend on Julius Peppers and Felix Jones got fined for a leg whip while trying to block. I guess that is the blocking technique that they teach in Dallas. Fines of 15,000 or so don't mean much to a guy who is making millions. Flozell Adams should be suspended for a game or 2.

Felix Jones is a scary player with enormous speed. I think the Cowboy WR's are ordinary. The Roy Williams trade, where Cowboys gave up draft choices in the 1st, 3rd and 6th round may go down as a gross overpayment for the return they got. It's still not as ridiculous as what the Patriots gave for Randy Moss - a 4th round pick.

As much as we all love Ahmad Bradshaw, he really does not have breakaway speed. He can take a hit very well, especially for someone who is only 200 lbs. He has great balance, great vision and can cut back very well, but when he gets in the open field he is not a true burner. I like Bradshaw, but I would like to see the Giants have a pure speed RB back there.

If Manningham emerges as a star and either starts or at least takes a significant number of snaps, it will take some playing time away from other WR's. If Hakeem Nicks continues to improve and pushes his way into the offense, it would mean a slightly diminished role for Domenik Hixon. This might be good for the Giants, because the lighter burden might encourage the coaches to put Hixon back as the KR and/or PR. He is a deadly KR and it would improve the Giants field position. The new no-wedge rules on kickoff returns reduces the threat on kickoffs and there have been fewer TD returns of kickoffs this year, but field position is still important.

I'll say it again: Eli is the most underrated QB in the league and Romo is the most overrated.

Eric Mangenius may get run out of Cleveland by Thanksgiving. He has no clue how to manage people. He is a dumb version of Tom Coughlin before the Coughlin-personality-makeover. In addition ti his poor people management skills, his personnel decision making is awful. Consider this: He trades down with the Jets and gives his former team the franchise QB they need instead of drafting Sanchez himself. Presumably, he did not draft Sanchez because the Browns drafted their own franchise QB a few years ago in Notre Dame's Brady Quinn. Furthermore their QB situation was deep because of Derek Anderson's presence on the roster. Anderson had 1 good year in his career two years ago, when the Browns surprised everyone in the league with a 10-6 record and almost snuck into the playoffs. So what does Mangenius do? He drives everyone crazy with his QB competition in the off season and totally mismanages the situation. He waits until 3 days before the season opener to inform everyone who the starter will be, Brady Quinn. So everyone assumes this is the start of the Brady Quinn era in Cleveland. Except, after 2 bad losses, at half time of the third game, when his entire team is being completely overwhelmed, he replaces Quinn as QB. Anderson throws 3 INT's in the 2nd half of the game. The QB switch gives the entire world the impression that the only reason the team lost is because of the poor play of the QB. The team is great. The coach is brilliant. Only reason we are losing is the QB. He managed to destroy the confidence of both QBs and undermine the ability of either one to run the team. What a dope.