Friday, December 18, 2009

Giants: Eagles game review II (offense)

This was the best that the Giants offense has looked in a long time. Particularly the OL was more solid than it has been and was more active and accurate with their blocking. Giants power running package is largely based on the interior OL-men, who are very athletic and nasty, pulling from their G positions and leading the blocking on the stretch play, the outside run. The TE has to get a seal on the DE or the LB and the FB Hedgecock has to get out in front leading the play. Jacobs then can get rolling, running down hill and scare some people on the perimeter. For various reasons, the OL was not in synch the entire year. Perhaps Seubert was hurt and was not pulling and getting out in front of it with good balance. Hedgecock looked like his timing was off and the Giants have probably missed blocking TE Michael Matthews more than they anticipated. They traded Matthews to the Patriots for a draft choice in the preseason and the Patriots subsequently cut Matthews. With all the injuries that the Giants have had and guys going on IR, it might have been a decent move to pick Matthews up, since there was probably a roster spot for him. Do the Giants need to keep Sinorice Moss, who doesn't get any balls thrown his way and has not even dressed for games the last few weeks? Anyway.... sorry for the digression about Matthews. My point is that the OL has been out of synch and against the Eagles last week, they were definitely playing better. The running game was solid, if not dominating. Seubert was getting out in front of those stretch plays; the TE, usually Darcy Johnson, was doing a better job on the edge and Hedgecock was getting a good push. Jacobs looked like he was running with authority. The short yardage situations, which had been a problem for the offense recently, were not a problem this week, as the offense converted several of them. I didn't love the way Bradshaw looked and played; in fact, I don't love Bradshaw. He's always looking to make a big play and when he doesn't, he leaves some yards on the field. There were a few times where he had the angle on beating his man to the outside and could have made 3 or 4 yards. Instead, he pulled up, juked, danced tried to make the man that was chasing him miss so that he could reverse field and go for a big run. Instead, he ended up with no gain. It is exciting when he makes those long runs, but sometimes he leaves some yards on the field.

The OL blocked well in the passing game as well. Eli was sacked a few times and was under pressure occasionally, but overall had a clean, comfortable pocket to throw from. Eli had a spectacular game. His decision making was excellent, his accuracy was perfect, his deep balls were on the money, his timing with his receivers was sharp and some of the medium range touch passes he made were superb. He even got lucky on one ball that was tipped by an Eagle LB, nearly intercepted and ended up being a completion to Boss. His numbers were great in terms of both completion percentage and yardage. Furthermore, he had about 4 or 5 balls that were dropped by his WRs that would have made his numbers look even better and maybe given the Giants a better chance to win. He had an easy TD pass dropped by Nicks, which I still can not understand how he dropped. People are giving a break to Nicks on that one, because he made a great play a few plays later and scored a TD on the same possession. I look at it differently - if that great play was there for Nicks to make, who's to say he would not have made that play anyway on some other possession later in the game? Nicks dropped a sure TD pass and you can't ever get that back. It's different if you're in a special situation - say on the goal line - and you drop one ball and catch the next. But out in the middle of the field, when you have a chance to make a big play and you drop it, it costs you. Boss dropped a magnificent pass by Eli that got just over the LB. It was not an easy catch, but he could have made it. Same for Steve Smith who dropped a beautiful sideline throw by Eli on 3rd down in the first half. That too was not an easy catch, but Eli floated it out there softly over the defender and Smith could have made a play on it.

The TD pass to Hixon was a great play call, great read by Hixon + Eli and showed excellent adjustment by the OL and the RB to pick up the blitz. Hixon was probably designated as the hot receiver and when the Giants read blitz from his side of the field, he pulled up and cut off his route, sitting down in a short zone where Eli could find him. Nicks, on the outside continued his deep sideline pattern attracting the attention of the safety and leaving Hixon alone. Actually, it was a strange defensive call by the Eagles, because usually when you blitz, you play tight man-to-man on the short receivers, assuming that the ball will come out quickly. Eagles looked like they were in some kind of zone, and Hixon was open. The RB picked up one of the blitzers who had the shortest path to the qb (the right read) and the second blitzer came free. Eli waited until the last second and released the ball just as he was about to get hit. When Hixon made one guy miss after the catch and broke a tackle from the S Mikell, who had a brutal game for the Eagles, he was home free for a TD.

The Giants have adjusted their use of the WRs perfectly this year. They moved Hixon down from the starting slot and actually have elevated Nicks into the starting role over Manningham. Despite the few drops he made in this game, Nicks is going to be an absolute star in this league. He has deceptive speed, a great athletic body, size to break a tackle and great hands. He is also a very polished WR, especially considering he has played only 11 games in the NFL(remember he missed a few games earlier this year with an injury). The thing I love the most about Nicks is his ability to run after the catch and make big plays. Consider this about Nicks: in 11 games he has played (he played sparingly at first, since he was still getting his feet wet), he has caught 38 passes and 6 are for TDs... that is a ridiculous 16% of his catches. He is averaging 18 yards per catch which is highest on the team and among the best in the NFL. Using Hixon as the 4th WR allows him to use his smarts on those 4 WR sets, when the defense is trying to confuse you with blitzes, disguised zones, etc. (At least other defenses try to do that). This reduced load in the passing game allows Hixon to be used as the KR and PR, for which he is the best suited player on the Giants.

With all the good things the offense did on Sunday night, we can still point out a few questionable calls by Kevin Killdrive and the coaching staff. After the Eagles went ahead 14-0, the Giants moved down smartly to the Eagles end, aided by the fortuitous bounce of a pass off of MLB Trotter's hands and into those of TE Boss, giving them first and goal from the 9. First down was a run to Bradshaw for 1 yard. Then came two passes, one to Smith where they challenged the Eagles best CB, Assante Samuel. This was somewhat questionable, but he was in single coverage on Steve Smith. The patten, however, was poor and Samuel read it perfectly. The route was a double move, similar to the Plaxico TD pass that won the Super Bowl in 2007. However, that play was from the 20 and the Patriots were in an all out blitz. This throw was from the 8 and there was just not enough room to make it work. In retrospect, a slant to Smith would have been better and would have worked, based on the way Samuel defended it. To be honest, that is a bit of a second-guess, but that's what we do on these blogs. Then on 3rd down the Giants called a fade to Manninham, who got behind his defender but did not stay in bounds. Mario did the same thing in the 4th qtr, but my complaint is the formation on the other side of the field. The Giants had a bunch formation to the right and as DarrenW pointed out to me in a previous conversation, this is not a good formation for the goal line. The 3 WR bunch counts on one of the defenders getting lost or bumped and losing his man. But it only works if the DBs are worried about someone going deep and running away from them. At the goal line where there is less time and less room, one or two defenders can stay right in the middle of the bunch and defend two guys that are in his area. The qb has to make a quick decision and the bunch takes a second or two longer to develop. I may be nitpicking there, because it did give Manningham man-to-man coverage on the other side, but the OC should have also noticed by now that Mario does not do a great job of keeping his feet in bounds on those fade routes. Nitpicking, maybe, but Giants had to settle for a FG when they were down 14-0 and needed a TD to get back in the game.

That, however, is a mere minor complaint compared to the very-difficult-to-understand play call later in the game. Giants were down 37-31 after stopping the Eagles on a 3 and out and getting the ball back with 1 minute to go in the 3rd quarter. Well, to be truthful, they did not really stop the Eagles with a brilliant defensive stand. Actually, McNabb had DeSean Jackson wide open, again, 3 yards past S Aaron Rouse 30 yards down the field and overthrew him by a few feet. Anyway - Giants moved the ball from their own 25, the 3rd qtr ended and the Giants were on the Eagles 43 with a 3rd and 5 with 2 minutes gone by in the 4th qtr. Crucial play call coming up and here are the things you have to consider as a HC/OC/playcaller and game strategist when making this call on 3rd and 5. (1) Eagles had absolutely torched the Giants secondary all game long and had done so every which way imaginable. They hit short passes, medium passes to TEs and WRs, deep sideline passes, go routes down the sidelines, deep crosses, etc. You name it, they hit it. In the second half, the Eagles gave up one INT, but had one ridiculously easy TD to DeSean Jackson and would have had another TD but missed him by 2 feet on another long ball. (2) Giants offense was clicking, particularly the passing game. Eli was sharp, he was making all the right reads and decisions; his receivers were generally getting open and the OL was doing a good job countering the Eagles blitzing. Furthermore, on 3rd and manageable, the blitz was less of a factor.

With all that in mind, it should have been obvious that from a game strategy perspective, the only way for the Giants to win the game was for the offense to outscore the Eagles. This was not the 1986 Giants defense or even the 2007 defense that the HC could rely on for a key stop. You needed to put the ball in the offense's hands to win the game. You needed a "we're in a shootout" mentality to win the game. Frthermore, having watched the first 47 minutes of the game, you also should have figured out that if you were going to ask the offense to win the game, you would put the ball in the hands of Eli, who had played a spectacular game and was throwing as well as he had all year.

Having said all of that, I turned to my buddy sitting next to me at the game and said: this is obviously a 2-down call. I would ask Eli to throw it and then go for it on 4th down, if he doesn't pick it up on 3rd down. But, since it is 2-down territory, I would not be surprised if they run a draw play on 3rd down to at least get close and if they have a 4th and short, they can go for it with a run, since the short yardage offense had been better that night.

Instead, they ran the draw play on 3rd down which disappointed me, but to my complete shock, they punted it away on 4th down. I am not saying that was the play or the sequence that cost the Giants the game, but it was terrible game management, poor strategy and poor play calling. To make matters worse, with Bradshaw in the game, the Giants were more likely to run a draw play or screen. If they were committed to a pass, they might have had Jacobs in the game to pick up the blitz, since he is a better pass blocker. This made the read easier for the Eagles defense and the play went nowhere. I am not putting all the responsibility for that sequence on Gilbride - Coughlin has to take a piece of the blame. The HC makes the clock management and game management decisions. My take on it was that it was almost irrelevant where the Eagles got the ball, since the Giants defense made the Eagles offense look unstoppable on this evening. The Eagles could score from deep in their own territory or from their 40. The extra 30 yards or so of field position, usually so crucial, were meaningless in this game. Therefore the Giants should have gone for it on 4th down, no matter what the results of the 3rd down play were.That judgement proved to be accurate, since the Eagles moved the ball 91 yards for a TD that was so easy that they did not even have to convert a 3rd down on the 12 play drive that lasted 7:41. That TD iced the game for the Eagles. You have to coach the game based on what is happening, not what you imagine might happen, should happen or hope to happen.

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