Thursday, November 5, 2009

Giants: Eli mechanics etc.

For several years, people have been talking about Eli's mechanics and his inconsistent passing. When Eli first came into the league, his mechanics were in fact not good. Gilbride was his QB coach and he did not fix things. The current QB coach, Palmer has done a good job addressing the problem and Eli is now a very accurate thrower. In the past, people talked about him throwing off his back foot, but in fact, this was not the flaw in his throwing motion. Every QB throws off his back foot from time to time, you can't help it when you have a defender in your face. The problem with Eli's motion was with his shoulder positioning. He did several things incorrectly: (1) he turned his front shoulder to the left as he threw, twisting away from the target instead of striding right through his throw. (2) he would drop his front shoulder at the beginning of the throw, instead of raising it up and gradually dropping it only after he released the ball and his right shoulder came forward. Both of these flaws took the forward momentum of his body out of his throw and put all the stress for the power and pace of the throw onto his right shoulder. When the shoulder, the elbow and the wrist are straining to put pace on the ball, they can not guide the ball effectively and accuracy suffers. Furthermore, if the shoulder is dropping too early, the nose of the ball drops down and the ball comes up short. If you try to compensate by putting more arc on the ball, it sails on you. It seems to me that Eli has fallen into some of these bad habits on occasion in the last 3 games and it also is possible that it is related to his bad foot. If the QB can't put all his weight on that back plant foot and get his body moving forward, the momentum of his body can not propel the throw forward. It's not only the INT's that he's thrown in the last 3 games - some of the blame for those INTs can be shared with the WRs. There was a tipped ball that resulted in an INT; there was a good deep ball that Hixon did not make a play on in the Cardinals game and there was a pass that Beckum didn't make a good enough play on in the Eagles game. But, there are several throws that should have been easy TDs that Eli missed on. There was a pass to Steve Smith in the Saints game that Eli overthrew by about 1 yard where Smith was wide open for what should have been a 35 yard TD. There was another throw against the Eagles where Hakeem Nicks was running down the seam on a double move. Perhaps you remember, it was the 1st half and the S Mikkel cut over from his spot in the zone, got his hands on the ball and nearly made an INT. This throw was badly underthrown. Nicks was behind the CB and the S was even with him, also biting on the first move by Nicks. The ball could have been thrown 5-7 yards deeper, giving Nicks a chance to run under it for an easy TD.

The reason I am highlighting these two particular passes is that they have a common element. They were deep balls that did not have enough air under them; they were thrown too flat. The throw to Smith was long and to Nicks was short, but both were thrown with not enough arc for deep balls. In both cases, if the ball had been thrown a little higher, the WRs would have been able to run under them and catch a TD. As I described above, this could come from not getting his weight down on his plant foot, bending his knees and exploding into the throw. His weight is only half back, the throwing shoulder doesn't come down enough, the nose of the ball stays just a little down and you don't get enough elevation on the throw. We'll see.

The other factor could be the OL, which has been just a little off this year. They're not terrible, but they're definitely not affording Eli the time he had to throw in the past. They are better run blockers than they are pass blockers, but this year, it seems like both have declined just a little. It could be that the OL is slowing down just a bit or it could be that the entire league has caught up to the Giants play calls and their protection schemes. Either way, Eli has been under more pressure this year than in the past. If the Giants miss too many of these deep pass opportunities, the league will not respect the deep ball, will blitz more and be willing to gamble on keeping single coverage on the outside relying on the fact that the long balls will not hurt them. Eli has to hit on the long pass plays to make this work.

The offense is not as badly broken as the coaching is on the defensive side of the ball, where there are hosts of blown assignments, players are not lining up properly and they don't get the play call early enough to know what their assignments are on a particular play. This is stuff that can be rectified. I just don't have confidence in the DC to do it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Giants: Team makeup

Years ago, the league was a weight and power league. If you lined up bigger and more powerful players than the other guys, especially in the DL and OL, you simply dominated the other team and carried the day. Running the ball was the primary, safest way to advance the ball and the passing game was secondary in importance. In the past several years, the rules have changed and the league has become a passing league. Speed became the byword, not only on the outside, at the skill positions, but even in the trenches. There certainly are some large and wide bodies combating each other at the line of scrimmage, but even there, athleticism and speed has become more important. Take a look at the Giants DEs: Tuck, Ueminyora, Kiwanuka, Tollefson and looking back a few years, Strahan, were all speed guys, not power rushers. Furthermore, the LBs have become somewhat marginalized in importance in the league. A better way to say it is that the LBs were once the center of the defense. They had to be stout against the run and be quick enough to take decent drops against the pass, but TEs were not deep threats and they did not have to cover as often on pass plays. Now, most teams have speedy, pass catching TEs; teams throw passes often off of quick 3-step drops which calls for more quickness and speed from the defense, especially the LBs; and offenses using 4 and even 5 WR personnel groupings require defenses to use 5 and 6 DBs often, calling for LBs to be off the field. Complex blitz packages also require speedy LBs who can get to the QB quickly. My point is that in the previous era, weight and power were the things, now speed is the main determinant for winning.

Giants definitely bought into the speed thing. As I said above, the DEs are all quick and athletic; last year's starting S, James Butler was switched out for Phillips largely because of speed; last year's starting LB, Blackburn was supposed to lose his starting job to speedy FA LB Boley; Canty was supposed to replace an aging and slowing Robbins at DT and Rocky Bernard was supposed to help in the middle as a speedy and stout DT. These key additions to the defense all of whom were supposed to add speed have all been out virtually the entire year. Regardless of that fact that the Giants defense has some good players, they are missing the speed upgrade they thought they were getting and needed from the roster changes. Add to this the fact that Clark and Pierce at LB seem to be a step slower and the Giants have been transformed into a defense that is both smallish AND slow, a definite recipe for disaster. Add to that the troubles of the first year DC and the predictability and transparency of the schemes; the "communications problems", the missed assignments and the poor tackling (all coaching problems, BTW) and you can see why the Giants defense has been so poor against quality offensive teams.

Giants went for small and quick as the makeup of their defense. With the 2 fastest guys in two key units on defense (LB Boley and S Phillips) missing and the absence of Canty requiring too many snaps for the slowing Robbins, the Giants went from being smallish and quick to smallish and slow. The new DC Sheridan seems to favor a simple 2-deep zone, which puts more pressure on fast guys in the DB-field to cover the center. It's not working.

Having brought all this gloom and doom, let me bring one positive glimmer to the table. I watched the Eagles game again and the big plays given up by the defense were more blown assignments than they were physical domination by the Eagles. On the pass to DeSean Jackson right before the half, C.C. Brown was out of position. Corey Webster made some hand motion right before the play, banging his fists together, no doubt changing the defense and requiring Brown to cover deep on the right side of the defense. Brown did not get the message because he was in the middle of the field, a few yards away from where the other S, Michael Johnson was, who was patrolling the left deep zone. The result of the blown coverage was that jackson was embarrassingly wide open.

On the TD run by the rookie McCoy, it looked to me like the Giants DL lined up wrong; they were unbalanced with 5 or 6 guys on the left side of the defense and 2 on the right side. That's exactly where McCoy ran and he was nearly untouched for the score.

My point is that coaching mistakes and communications problems are at least theoretically fixable. Having bad players is not fixable. Maybe the Giants can get their act together and play better. We still need to see something from our coaches, that give us confidence that this can happen, however.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Giants: Eagles game review (ugh)

Giants are in a free fall now. They need to right the ship, but it's not clear that they can. When things are going well, the team has the confidence that it will make every play and find a way to win. When things are going badly and the swagger is knocked out of a team that thought it was good, they walk with their tail between their legs, their shoulders slumped and are just waiting to be beaten. One thing goes wrong, everyone gets tense and tight and then three more things go wrong. Case in point is what transpired at the end of the half in the Eagles game. Giants were down 13-0 in the blink of an eye, giving away a 40+ yard running play to a FB who had never had a run of more than 20 yards in the NFL and who had not scored a TD in about 4 years. Then Eli threw an INT in which he stared down the target, rookie Travis Beckum so that everyone in the stadium knew where he was going with the ball, including CB Assante Samuel. The rookie Beckum didn't help because he did not charge to the ball and try to make a play on it, he slowed down, cut off his route and allowed Samuel the easy INT. 13-0 before you knew it. Then, the Giants somehow stabilized the game. They actually put some pressure on McNabb, and even though the offense was not very good, the game was not a runaway. Finally, Eli moved the offense down the field and with less than two minutes left in the half, pushed the Giants into the end zone and the 16-7 deficit going into the second half looked at least manageable. Then, the roof caved in. McNabb hits a 57 yard TD to DeSean jackson who was so open that it looked like a preseason play. Eli threw another INT on a terrible pass, the Eagles ran two plays and were in the end zone again. 30-7. Train on runaway again. Giants closed the score to 16-7 and inside of 5 plays from scrimmage: 1 for the Eagles, 2 for the Giants and then 2 more for the Eagles, the Giants were trailing by 30-17. Rout on.

The dispiriting thing about the first TD pass to Jackson was that it was almost the same thing that happened 2 weeks ago against the Saints and last week against the Cardinals. Eagles through a simple formation were able to get exactly the match up they wanted, were able to pick on C.C. Brown in a deep zone and had a WR open, about 20 yards away from any defender. This is exactly what the Saints did and exactly what the Cardinals did. No exotic, trick plays - simple schemes to get the exact match ups they wanted. This is for several reasons: the Giants defensive schemes are predictable and transparent. The Giants don't shift in and out of formations, show one things and do another, except for an occasional blitz fake. The opposing team knows how to read the Giants coverage and is never fooled. On top of that, the Giants have a huge hole in the secondary at S and combine that with occasional missed assignments and the Giants have big trouble.

In addition, it sure looks like the Giants LBs are slow. Clark and Pierce have both lost a step and Blackburn never really had a step to lose. Robbins is slowing down at DT and the absence of Canty and Alford makes him take more snaps than he should to remain an effective player. Add to this the fact that Tuck's shoulder is hurting and therefore he is a less capable backup at DT and you can see some real decline in what was thought to be a powerful front 7. Every team has injuries, so this is not a good excuse. But when you have injuries at two positions that you knew needed strengthening (DT and LB) and you signed FAs there. it indicates you needed the help. And you have another injury at S, another position that you knew had lack of depth, you can see why the defense might be struggling. Giants may get Canty and Boley back this week and perhaps will get Ross back after the bye. Maybe they will play better then. The worrying thing is that there is still no help at S and the DC still sends his defense out on the field advertising clearly what defense the Giants will be playing.

On offense, Eli has played poorly the past few weeks, but as with the defense, the offense is so completely predictable. There are just too few plays where Giants are out running free, having fooled the defense. There are, conversely, too many plays where the defense masses to the ball knowing exactly what play is coming.