Monday, January 4, 2010

Giants: What's Next?

Everyone always looks for easy answers. When a situation is in disarray, or to describe it the way they might on MTV's Jersey Shore, when things are a f-ing mess, it is not uncommon to look for one thing to blame, one scapegoat, one thing to fix and go after it. It is somehow comforting to feel that there is only one thing wrong, one thing that is broken and if you are able to fix it, you will be back on the path to health, or in this case, back on the road to a successful football team. It is much more daunting to look at 5 or 6 things that may be broken, because it may take years to fix them all. I think this applies to the current Giants team. The quick fix, the scapegoat, the obvious one to blame for this disaster of a season is the DC, Bill Sheridan. After all, the Giants had a great defense in 2007 and 2008; it was upgraded with some key FA acquisitions and it was thought to be loaded. Far from having a dominant defense, the Giants gave up 427 points, second highest total in their history. There were injuries, to be sure, but there is no doubt that the defense did not play up to its potential. The defense was unimaginative, predictable and played without passion. The fundamentals were weak, with poor tackling, poor zone technique in pass coverage and hosts of blown assignments especially in the passing game. In run defense, the poor fundamentals showed up in lack of discipline in filling running lanes, poor outside contain and poor gap control. The coaches did not coach the players well enough, but the players also did not play well enough.

To put all the blame for this fiasco on the DC is clearly wrong. Don't misunderstand me, I think he needs to be fired, but there are some fundamental personnel changes that need to be made on both sides of the ball, but particularly on the defense and the organization has to look beyond just the DC for coaching changes. Let's face it - the Giants quit on their coaches in the last two games of the season. Michael Strahan said it on one of the Fox NFL studio shows; he said: "The Giants licked a stamp, put it on and envelope and mailed it in weeks ago." This quitting goes well beyond the defense as neither the offense nor ST showed up the last two weeks. When the team quits on the coach, when he does not have his finger on the pulse of the team, when he is unable to motivate his players to perform with some energy and commitment, it is time to think about changing the coach. I think Coughlin is a fine coach, a winning coach, and is obviously capable of winning championships. But sometimes, the players don't hear the voice of the coach that has been harping at them for years (6 years in the case of Coughlin) and a change is needed. After the 2006 season, the Giants ownership and management were considering firing Coughlin because of the mediocre performance (8-8 record compared to 11-5 the previous season and another 1st round playoff loss, this time to the Eagles). They also did not like his treatment of players, his confrontational style with the press and his attitude. He was able to convince management that he could change his attitude, and most of all that although the players complained, they played hard for him and the team hadn't quit on him. This was evidenced by the win in week 17 of 2006 to make the playoffs and the comeback in the 4th qtr of the playoff game against the Eagles to tie the score with 5 minutes left before ultimately succumbing. This was the sign that the team had not quit. Well if those are signs that the team had not quit on the coach in 2006, the evidence is manifest that the team quit on the coach in 2009. Even with a playoff bid in the balance, they did not show up against the Panthers in week 16 and were even worse in Minnesota in week 17. The worst indictment for a coach is that the players quit on him and sometimes, the only thing to do is to fire the coach. If not, you have to completely shake up the personnel to get a different mix of players in the locker room. I am not talking about window-dressing, like bringing in a new backup S. I am talking about big personnel changes to both upgrade the team and the attitude of the players. Sometimes, you have to do both - back up the truck and clean out the entire team, coaches included.

You're probably wondering what the Giants need to do, and I am only too happy to help you out. The Giants need 2 new starting LBs and they need to drastically change the character of this position on the team. This is not your grandmother's NFL - this is a passing and speed league and the LBs need to step up and be part of it. Look around the league and the LBs are more like small forwards in the NBA than they are like plodding, Charles Oakley-type power forwards. Offenses have gotten into the habit of throwing out of quick 3 step drops to mitigate the threat of blitz or big pass rush. As a result, LBs need to drop back into coverage quickly, play in space and defend the pass. Pierce, even before he had lost a step or two, was not this kind of player. Now that he has slowed down, he is simply no longer able to compete at a high level. The LBs are the great athletes on the team - great speed and enough power to stand up to the running game when it comes their way. But if the LBs are a little smaller and more athletic, you need to bulk up the DL against the run, to stop the run themselves and at the very least to keep the OL-men from moving to the second level too easily and blocking the slightly-smaller LBs. For the Giants, this also takes the form of getting 1 or 2 new DTs to play better run defense. Canty was hurt all year, so I am not willing to write him off, Cofield is young enough to come back from his surgery in the off season and Alford might recover from his season-ending injury. But Robbins and Bernard look to be done to me and should probably be cut in favor of some powerful DTs.

It goes without saying that the Giants need to fix the S position. Neither C.C. Brown nor Aaron Rouse appear to be NFL caliber safeties in a passing league. Michael Johnson played well in the past, although he had an awful year in 2009. Giants will need to add 1 starting S and may need to add 2 if Phillips does not come all the way back. That is a lot of change on defense - 5 or 6 new starters.

There is another area that needs to be addressed in the front 7 and that is the Osi situation. After the Panthers game, Osi complained that he wasn't used right, that he probably played his last game as a Giant. In response, he played most of the Minnesota game, was poor against the run and did not get much of a pass rush either. Coughlin commented in response to Osi's remarks that: "he is an important player and is in the Giants plan for the future". Sounds good so far. Then Coughlin added another gratuitous comment that had me wondering. He said: "Osi is an asset to this organization". Why did Coughlin say that? Why didn't he stop after his first sentence, or add something like: we anticipate that he will return to his former high level of performance and be an outstanding player for us in the future. This "important asset" comment sounds suspiciously to me like he might be traded. An asset, after all, is not necessarily a player on the field. An asset is something you can move or trade to imporve your team. When a player starts complaining like this, there is often no salvaging the situation, especially if the player views himself as a star. If you restore the player's playing time and reinstall him as starter, then you have to deal with other players who will feel unhappy that the squeaky wheel got oiled. Conversely, if you keep him on the bench, the situation festers, the locker room divides and it is bad for the team. Occasionally you can find some compromise, but frequently, it spins out of control. Osi was never a great run stopper and he was further exposed this year when the DTs and the LBs around him slipped in their run support. Because of his limited on-field performance and his attitude which has the potential to fracture the locker room, Osi is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

I would package Osi up with the Giants 1st and 3rd round draft pick and send him to Spagnuolo in Saint Louis for their 1st round pick. Spagnuolo loved Osi and got him to play when he was DC in 2007. He may feel that he can revive him and get him back playing to the pro bowl level that he did in 2007. The Rams need lots of players and trading down makes sense for them. If they want more than that, I would consider throwing in one of our WRs, since the Rams desperately need offense. With that first pick, the Giants would take Ndamukong Suh, the Nebraska DT and it would go a long way to solving the DL problems. With the Giants pick at the 15th slot, the Rams could still get a QB if that is the direction they want to go.

With my preamble earlier about the new speed-first, athletic LBs in the NFL, it says two other important things about the Giants. First, with the need for faster, more athletic LBs, the era of zone blitz is nearing an end. Zone blitz is when you bring an extra DB or LB from one side of the field and drop a DE into coverage. Forget it, this does not work any more. Offenses go to quick release by the QB and force the DE to play pass defense, something he is ill equipped to do, because he is even slower than the LBs. The reason this affects the Giants is that Sheridan did even more zone-blitzing than Spagnuolo did and much more often than othe NFL teams. Giants have to do less of this in the future and be more creative and imaginative in their blitz packages. The second interesting affect on the Giants is that Clint Sintim, the impressive physical specimen that the Giants drafted out of Virginia in the 2009 draft, may not be a good fit for LB in this league. He was a mostly-pass-rusher in college and, although he was nominally a LB, he played often with his hand on the ground. If the Giants acquire some fast LBs and get rid of Osi in a trade as I have proposed, Sintim may return to playing DE. He might be a perfect situational pass rusher for the Giants replacing Osi.


Adam Goldschmiedt said...

What about the running game/O-line? I think they need to rethink some things there as well.

wolfman said...

Adam: Offense and OL is in next post. This one was dedicated to defense