I have been whining in this blog all year about the coaches, particularly the DC, Sheridan. I think I am right in my complaints: Sheridan is not fit for the job. but there is no denying now that the problem goes much deeper than the coaching staff. In the game against the Panthers, the Giants were hammered at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and that goes much deeper than coaching. I've started talking about Sheridan, so let's stick to the defense now, and I'll write about the offense in another post later this week. Panthers were a 6-8 team coming into the game with nothing to play for. Their offense is primarily a running offense now, with Steve Smith a half-step slower than he was a few years ago, Muhsin Muhammad no longer a deep threat and a rookie qb making his 7th NFL start. Based on that, you would have to agree that the Panthers are fairly one dimensional. The Panthers came in to try to run the ball at the Giants and they tried to do so without their best runner, DeAngelo Williams. Even without any deception or the balance of a deep passing game and without the OTs that started the season for them (both Jordan Gross and Jeff Otah having been placed on IR) the Panthers OL absolutely punished, dominated and shredded the Giants front 7. Occasionally the Giants went to single high S coverage and dropped an additional S in the box to challenge the running game to little effect. Once in a while they stopped a running play because of a run blitz or because of a missed block by a Panther OL-man. But in general, virtually every running play worked. The Panthers OL got a great push on the Giants DL. They were very successful running to the edge. The Giants DEs were sealed by the OT and lead blocks by the FB and pulling interior OL-men worked like they were drawn up by a coach on a chalk board explaining to players how to run the play. When the Panthers ran inside, the OL had a surge, controlled the line of scrimmage pushing the DL back and if there was not a hole opened immediately, the RB would dance behind the line until a crease opened up and he would slice through for good yardage. I would like to blame this effort on coaching, but the best we can say is that the coaches did not get the players motivated to give their all. From an X-es and O-s point of view, there was nothing tricky that the Panthers did offensively. They knocked the Giants DL back and beat them up. It looked to me at times like it was a practice or a walk through, where the coach says to his players that the offense needs to sharpen up some of their running plays and asks the defense to run at only 3/4 speed. This will give the offense the opportunity to run through all parts of the play without disruption, to get the repetitions and the timing down pat. It was a horrible display.
The Panthers passed effectively enough, though they did so mostly to balance the running game. The Panthers knew exactly what type of zone defense the Giants were going to use and ran several plays that worked perfectly, exactly as they were drawn up on the practice field. I am thinking particularly of a WR screen that the Panthers ran, where the WR ran to the right, the OL-men and TE got out in front of the play; it looked like it was designed to get 10-12 yards on 3rd and about 10 and it got 15 yards. No Giants defender got close enough to even remotely disrupt the play. On another play in the first half, the Panthers had 3rd and long and ran a deep in-cut to Muhammad when the Giants were playing a cover 2 zone. Muhammad was being covered by Dockery man-to-man; Muhammad beat him by several steps to the inside, right where the cover 2 window is open for a WR to catch the ball, if he beats the CB and the S does not close quickly enough. The S saw the play developing but sat back and waited for Muhammad to come into his zone and for the ball to be caught before he moved up to make a play. There were no other WRs going deep on that side of the field, so the S did not have any deep responsibility on that play. Instead of playing smartly and aggressively, he sat back and waited for the ball to be caught for 15 yards and a first down before moving from his zone. A few weeks ago against Philadelphia, S Michael Johnson bit up on a short route and let DeSean Jackson get behind him. On this play, there was no deep route and a good S might have made a play on the ball. I can just hear the offensive coach saying "if we run the route this way, 15 yards deep, there should be a soft spot before the S in the deep zone moves up". It worked just like they drew it up. It seems to me that the Giants DBs are taught to watch the qb's eyes and do not pay enough attention to the WRs running the developing pass routes to make the right play on the ball. I used to think that the position coaches on the Giants were excellent, particularly Peter Giunta, the DB coach, but this display has shaken my resolve.
In summary, although I would like to continue to blame this all on the coaches, it is obvious that the Giants defense is in need of a major overhaul. The DTs were horrible this year. Robbins looks like he is ready to retire. Canty has been largely ineffective, though perhaps he gets a pass because he was injured. Cofield has been less effective than in the past and Rocky Bernard has been invisible the entire season and has to be connsidered a complete bust as a FA signing. The LBs were not good either, even before Pierce got hurt and the S position was a disaster especially after Phillips got hurt. In short, there probably needs to be an upgrade at 5 or 6 positions on defense: 2 LB's, 2 DT's, 1 S (or 2 if Phillips can not come back) and maybe a CB depending on Ross, Webster and Thomas health and inclination to play. I would not bring back the DC and would be very selective about which defensive coaches I would bring back, but to blame it all on the coaches and to not upgrade the defensive personnel would be a big mistake.
The Giants defense is in the top 5 (bottom 5?) in most points given up in the league. They are in the company of the 2 and 3 win teams in this league. The fact that they won 8 games is a credit to the offense and to the fact that they had games against some weak opponents. The Giants have had 6 games where they gave up more than 30 points, 4 of them where they gave up more than 40. Every defense, even a very good one, gets toasted once in a while, but not that often. The DC deserves blame because every time the opponent did something the slightest bit different, and broke their tendencies, the Giants seemed totally unprepared. But good defensive players would be able to overcome that to at least some degree and play better than they did.
The Giants in the past few years went for a defense that was built more on speed than brute force and power. It is possible that the Giants went too far in the speed direction and did not have enough power to stand up to the bigger OLs in the NFL. The weakness and less physical play of the DT's may have exposed Osi as a one dimensional player. Perhaps he is just a situational pass rusher and he was supported by great DT and LB play in stopping the run to camouflage his own weakness in that phase of the game. When the DT's weakened and the LBs slipped, we saw that the emperor had no clothes.
GM Reese has had a golden touch drafting and in signing FA's in past several years. I have to say that this year, while the draft still looks like it could be very good (Nicks, Sintim, Beatty) the FA's that he signed were a disaster. Bolley was mediocre, Canty had a good game here or there but was not an impact player and Bernard was a complete bust. To make matters worse, JR knew that he needed depth at S when James Butler left to Spags and the Rams in the off season and he signed C.C. Brown. I don't want to blame Brown too much, because throughout his career he was always more of a run-stopping, in-the-box S than he was a fleet pass defender. When Phillips went down with the injury, he was asked to fill a role he was not really equipped for and we saw the results. But where Reese failed is signing Brown in the first place as a S in a pass-happy league. He should have signed Darren Sharper, who was picked up by the Saints as a FA in the off-season. Giants signed C.C. Brown to a 1 year contract that had a salary cap number of $1.6M and the Saints signed Sharper to a 1 year contract with a cap number of $1.7M. What a difference Sharper would have made on this team.