Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Giants: Eagles game review

There can be no longer any dispute that the problem with this team achieving anything at all this year is on the defensive side of the ball. The Giants have given up the 4th most points in the league and are listed up there (down there?) with the worst teams in the league. The fact that the Giants are 7-6 is a testament to the soft schedule early in the season and the excellent performance of their offense in many games this year. The weakness of the defense is brought out particularly by well coached, good offensive teams like the Eagles. There are different aspects to coaching: one is coming up with a game plan and strategy that will work against opponents' weaknesses and tendencies. The second part of coaching is making in-game adjustments and reacting to game situations or surprises that the opposing team does. Reid of the Eagles is an excellent coach in devising strategies and drawing up game plans, particularly on offense. He is not as adept at in-game adjustments, but against this poorly coached Giants defense, there are never any surprises or in game adjustments required. They are so completely predictable that the opposing offense can out-scheme it every time. Just line up in a particular way that is the slightest bit different from your team's normal formation and you get the exact match up you want and elicit confusion on the defense. I'll give an example of what I mean a bit later, but the problems with this defense are deep. Aside form predictability, which gives the opposing offenses an easy time setting formations and plays, the defensive schemes and plans themselves are flawed. Whenever the opposing offense tries even the slightest bit of deception, it works, fooling the Giants defense virtually all the time. Giants DBs bite on nearly every play action fake and are often caught biting up on short routes when they should be defending deep ones.

In the first Eagles game, the Giants defense was beaten by a few big plays and a few turnovers. The base defense was not as bad, though it was far from dominating. Nevertheless, we came into this Eagles game with the thought that if the Giants defense could stop the big plays, they would have a Chance to stay in the game. Instead, the Giants defense was far worse than in the first game. They gave up several big plays, medium plays and a few long drives mixed in for good measure. They were actually not awful at stopping the run, but they made up for it by being completely abysmal defending the passing game.

We all had a moment of hope after the defense held the Cowboys to 17 non-garbage time points last week and not allowing any long plays against them. Perhaps the defense was about to have a revival and return to playing up to its capability. We analyzed that some 125 of the Cowboys' nearly 400 passing yards were in garbage time and that the defense was actually pretty good. In retrospect, however, I think we can say that the defense was about the same against the Cowboys as it was against the Eagles. The difference in performance was that the Eagles have more dangerous skill position players and they have a coach that was willing to throw the ball down the field. Perhaps if Wade Phillips would have called some down field throws, Romo would have completed them.

I'd like to give a few examples of what I was talking about above. In the Cowboys game, on Roy Williams second TD that gave the Cowboys a temporary 17-14 lead early in the second half, the Giants defense was completely fooled. Romo faked a handoff to the RB, then faked a pitch to another RB and threw to Roy Williams who was open by 7 yards. It sure seems like it's hard to get open by 7 yards when you are on the 5 yard line, but he was. Three players bit on the fakes - LB Clark, CB Webster and S Rouse. Every deception works against the Giants defense. They are not coached to read their keys in the positioning and movement of the OL; rather, they look into the backfield at the QB and fall for every ball fake.

In the Eagles game on their TD on the opening drive of the game, Vick came in at QB and completed a 30 yard pass to DeSean Jackson. On that play, Vick was lined up in shotgun, but the Giants, reading the tendencies chart from the Eagles probably thought that a running play was coming, since Vick often runs when he is in the game. Vick took the snap and instead of running, made a play action fake to the RB on his left. It was the lamest ball fake I've ever seen. He made a perfunctory wave of the ball towards the RB, all the while, his head was up and he was looking down field. It seemed completely obvious that he was throwing as his heart was definitely was not into the fake. On the defense, 3 players bit on the fake, committed to the run and took several hard steps forward to get the potential ball carrier. To give the Giants defensive players a little break, the Eagle OL did carry out the fake well, because they did not drop back in a typical pass blocking stance. The RT and RG pulled to the left as if the play was a power run to the left side of the offense, giving more for the defense to bite on. But the WRs and the TE did no engage anyone to block, they were streaking down field and the safeties should have read this. Not only was De Sean Jackson open, all 3 receivers down field were open, as there were only two Giants back defending. It was a complete breakdown of the defense.

There are a few other damning plays we can call up in the Eagles game, but I will stick for now with the 40 yard TD pass to DeSean Jackson that gave the lead back to the Eagles 15 seconds after Eli took the offense down to put the Giants ahead 31-30. Giants were in a predictable 2 deep zone and DeSean Jackson lined up in the slot, instead of as a WR on the end of the line. This meant that he came into LB Boley's zone first who was covering him when he first broke off the line of scrimmage. When he ran out of this short zone, Boley passed him off to be covered by S Michael Johnson, but Johnson inexplicably bit up on a short route being run by a little used TE and was out of position to cover Jackson. Aaron Ross tried to come over from his position on the other side of the field to try to make a play on the ball, but he could not get there in time and it went for a TD. There are several things that are fundamentally wrong with this defensive play. First, neither of the players assigned to guarding Jackson on this play, Boley or Johnson are even remotely able to cover him, even in the best of circumstances. When one mistake in coverage was made by the Giants, it became a ridiculously easy TD instead of a slightly harder one, which might have required a good, accurate pass by McNabb instead of the easy pass that it was to the wide open WR. Second, Jackson is the most dangerous player on the Eagles and he should be accorded more coverage and special attention by the defensive schemes instead of less. On this play and virtually every other, Jackson was treated as if he were a run-of-the-mill average player rather than one of the best in the NFL. You have to game plan for him a little bit and give him some extra attention, not ignore him. Third, many people noticed the lack of the pass rush and accused it as being the main culprit in allowing big pass plays. This is not the case - while it is certainly true that no WR can be covered for 4 or 5 seconds, the WRs were running clear from the moment they went down field and left the line of scrimmage. They did not have to wait for a sophisticated pass play and 5 seconds of protection by the OL.

The Giants blitz packages and different zone coverages are simple, undisguised and easy to attack. One of their packages involves rushing only 3 DL-men, dropping one of them into coverage in the short middle zone normally occupied by the LB. Then, they drop the LB into a deeper zone to play S. That puts 2 extra players in coverage, for a total of 8, but 2 of them are easy to be attacked, the DE in LB zone and the LB is S zone, so the offense can take advantage of them. When they blitz, 90% of the time they send an extra blitzer right up the middle and it is too easy to pick up by the OL. Opposing OL's seem to keep an extra RB or TE in to block until they read whether the Giants are blitzing. If the Giants are not blitzing, the offensive players release and get into the pass pattern. With the poor S play Giants have gotten, extra pass blocking gives the QB time and one of the WRs is going to come free even if there is one less receiver running pass patterns.

To add to the Giants woes, several of the players seem unmotivated and are making mistakes and breakdowns on way too high a percentage of the plays. That seems to say to me that the coach is not getting through to the players. The bottom line on the DC is this: even if we concede that the players are not as good as we thought, that the Giants defense has had some injuries and maybe some players have taken a step back in performance, there is no excuse for the way the defense is playing. You can't go from being one of the best defenses in the league to allowing absolutely everyone to score on you in one year, with mostly the same players, unless the coach is messing things up royally. The coach has to put the players in optimum position to play well and he is not doing that. Even if we overestimate the quality of the defense, we can be sure that there are some very good players on that side of the ball and the defense is definitley playing below its capability. That's on the DC.

Still, with all of that, I contend that if any one of the following plays had gone in the Giant's favor, they might have won the game. If Bolley doesn't drop that easy INT/fumble recovery, he scores a TD. If Sintim or any other defensive player picks up the ball, Giants have another possession and a better chance. Eagles scored a few plays later, so the lack of a turnover on that fumble was a huge play. If Eli doesn't fumble the ball right after the Goff interception, maybe the Giants have another score. If Nicks holds on to that easy TD, maybe Giants get an extra score and make the game closer. Of course the fumble recovery and punt return that both went for TD's were killers. You never win a game when you give away two scores like that.

Will post something on the offense later in the week.


DarrenW said...

As bad as that long D-Jax TD was, the long first down play at the end of the half was even worse. It came directly after Boley should have carried McNabb's fumble into the endzone for a TD. It was as if the Eagles OC looked into the playbook for the play that will work on 3rd and 15. D-Jax just ran straight and angled off towards the sideline and was inexplicably WIDE open. I have no idea how someone can get that open without making any move or doing anything to get himself open. He just ran. They then went on to score making it a 2 TD game at the half. It was a big play/drive.

wolfman said...

I agree on all your points. The play on 3rd and 18 was worse than the TD that I described in the post. A few other things about that 3rd and 18 - there was no additional attention paid to Jackson; Aaron Rouse was the closest one to him and was a good 5-8 yards away from him, but the thing that really got me was this - after the completion, Rouse kind of looked at the sideline, looked at the CB who had underneath responsibility and raised up the plams of his hands in a questioning gesture, as if to say... "was that my man?". This is coaching - and it is probably what the players intend when they say they have communications problems. I think they are not being taught the defense and the schemes well and there is confusion about what they should do.