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.
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.