Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Giants: defensive philosphy

All the analysts were twittering, protesting and criticizing the fact that the Giants did not take a MLB in the 2nd round, especially when Sean Lee from Penn State (AKA Line Backer University) was available for the taking. Instead, the Giants took Linval Joseph, DT from East Carolina University. Giants did not take a LB on the 3rd round either and waited until round 4 to take ILB Dillard. Again, moans and whines from the experts who wrote columns complaining that the Giants did not know what they were doing by not filling the MLB role until so late in the draft.

I think this move reveals something about the draft philosophy of the Giants, but more so about the philosophy the Giants have in building a defense. As far as the draft itself, the Giants had very high grades on Joseph, ranking him as a first round talent. They rarely will sacrifice value for need and did not have Lee ranked as high as Joseph. The mantra that describes the Giants philosophy is "Never take your depth chart into the draft room". If you have a chance to take a top player, you take him (almost) regardless of need. If Joseph and Pierre-Paul are as good as the Giants think they are, they could anchor the Giants DL for 10 years.

More important though, one of the Giants philosophies in drafting is positional upgrades of talent. In other words, DE is a more important position than, for example G. So if there is a G that has grades roughly equal to a DE within his position, the Giants will rank the DE higher because it is a more critical position. Giants will be even more strict about the value/need philosophy in the early rounds and may be a little more flexible, weighing need a bit more in the later rounds. Based on this position-importance approach, IMHO the Giants have lowered the value of MLBs in their charting of defensive values. Here's why: If the modern day offense is reliant on passing more than running, you build an offense with QBs, a strong OL to protect him and WRs who can be deep threats. In this model of the offense, the RB is actually somewhat diminished in value. It's not that you don't need RBs; obviously you need them. If the offense does not have balance or is one dimensional, it is much easier for defenses to prepare and to stifle them. However, if you have a great OL, even a good RB can be productive enough to balance out the attack. Furthermore, if you have a great RB, he will be undermined by a poor OL. For the running game - the OL is the foundation more than the RB. As a consequence, the defense has to be built to stop these pass-oriented offenses. This means that the DL /pass rush, and CBs are the most important positions on the defense to handle that passing attack. But I think what is less obvious, but is evident in the Giants off season FA moves and drafting philosophy is that LBs are of lesser importance and the S position has actually displaced the LB somewhat and been elevated in importance to the defense. The converse of: "you don't need a great RB to play behind a great OL - a good one will do just as well"; is: "you don't need a great LB to play behind a great DL - a good one will do just as well". If you can keep the LBs clear by having strong DTs and great DEs occupying the OL, the LBs, even average ones, are free to make plays. Moreover, every team in the league uses S to drop down "in the box", i.e. close to the line of scrimmage, to help stop the run. The S has become like an adjunct LB and the LB is eroded in value. On passing downs, when so many offenses use 4 and even 5 WR sets, the S is often forced to play man-to-man pass coverage, further increasing his value relative to the LB. Take a look at how Rex Ryan used his DBs and S on defense, keeping 6 or even 7 in the game often and not being afraid to blitz them from any angle. It is effective - they are faster and more elusive than LBs and the OL has less of an idea of where they might be coming from and who might be blitzing. This further devalues the LBs who used to be the prime blitzers on defense, and places more importance on S. Giants, of course, signed two safeties in the off season and drafted one in the 3rd round (ahead of a LB), strongly signalling how they plan to build their defense.

I think this also signals how they evaluate their DTs - which is not very high. Alford is coming off an injury and has to be considered a question mark. Cofield had a mediocre year partly because it was his first year back after off season knee surgery. Canty was injured, missing about half the season and was invisible when he did play. Rocky Bernard was also invisible. So the pick of Joseph was both a value and a need pick. If last year's under-performers come back strong, particularly Alford and Canty, then the Giants will have a strong DT rotation.

As another result of the above estimation of value of LBs, maybe we can take another look at Antonio Pierce's Giants career and estimate how good a player he really was. My assertion is that Pierce was a slightly-above-average athletic talent who got the most out of his natural ability because: 1) he was highly motivated 2) he was a great film studier and reader of defenses and 3) he had a very high football IQ. When you think back to the impact plays Pierce made, most were cerebral plays and positioning, rather than speed or strength. Everyone noticed that his play declined last year, but maybe that was a result of the declining play of the DL as much as it was of his decline. Pierce played well when the DL in front of him was strong and he could make plays. When the DL slipped, so did Pierce. He was as much a product of the system as he was a big time impact player. The biggest play I remember Pierce making in the 2007 Superbowl run was the great play he made stopping a screen pass in Green Bay in the conference championship game. Green Bay had 3 blockers set up in front of the RB and had a clear field with maybe 1 or 2 DBs down field. This play had TD written all over it. Pierce read the play and attacked from an angle, slipping in between two of the blockers and holding up the RB until the defense could swarm over and help make the stop. It was a great read by Pierce, it took a perfect angle to attack the play and it required great effort for him to hang on to the RB until the play got stopped. But it was not a great athletic play. By contrast, I can remember 3 or 4 great athletic plays that LB Kawika Mitchell (now with Buffalo) made for the Giants that same year, including INTs and fumble recoveries that turned into TDs. I am not saying that Mitchell is great and Pierce stinks. I am just saying that Pierce is more of a system guy and if the Giants have a great system around him and DL in front of him, Goff, Dillard or Wilkinson may do just fine in the middle of that defense.

One more thought, since I brought up Canty earlier in this post. I am worried that the Giants made a mistake signing him. Canty played DT on a 3-4 defense which is a much different technique and requires different athletic skill than a DT in a 4-3 defense. In particular with Dallas, DeMarcus Ware is such a force on their DL that he makes people playing next to him look better. Jay Ratliff replaced Canty in Dallas and had an outstanding season, playing better than Canty had in the middle of that Dallas DL. Ratliff made the pro-bowl and was very strong in the middle. Giants personnel evaluators got reports from their own OL that Canty was very hard to move in the middle. But with Ware on the outside, sometimes lining up right and sometimes left and with the style of the Dallas DL, Canty was often alone in the middle and rarely did the man assigned to block him get any help from his OL-mates. Maybe he was evaluated higher by the Giants than he really should have been. We'll see.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Giants: First round pick JPP

I'm not going to use revisionist analysis and all of a sudden proclaim that I love this pick of Jason Pierre-Paul. I don't, for all the reasons that I mentioned in my comments to the previous post. The biggest mistakes in the draft come from scouts falling in love with player's results at the combine, where they somehow show ridiculous athletic ability that exceeds their on-field performance. Conversely, the draft is replete with guys that did not show freakish athleticism, or had moderate times in the 40 and therefore slipped later in the draft, only to become excellent players. Jerry Rice comes to mind as an example of this latter category, someone whose 40 time was much lower than his football speed. Rod Smith is another WR in this category who was actually undrafted and will probably be a HOF candidate. In the former category - players that wowed the scouts with their pure athletic skill but were not football players, you don't need to go back much further than the last few drafts of the Oakland Raiders. They took Darrius Heyward-Bey who has incredible straight line speed and Jamarcus Russell whose arm is as powerful as a MIRV missile and apparently about as accurate. (Editor's note: MIRV missiles were a category of offensive nuclear weapon called multiple reentry missiles. The idea was to load a rocket with multiple warheads as a first strike, offensive weapon and when the rocket re-entered the atmosphere and approached the target, multiple warheads would be delivered in a somewhat random pattern across the target area. Accuracy was less important in this weapon, hence my rather lame comparison of MIRVs and Jamarcus' arm.) Frankly, this is why the Giants stuck to their guns and drafted Hakeem Nicks last year at WR. They loved him (accurate judgment imho) because of the play making ability he showed ON THE FOOTBALL FIELD. His 40 time was good enough, but somewhat pedestrian and certainly not eye-catching. They scouted a football player on the field in his time at UNC and they were right in their evaluation.

Anyway - you get the point - players can rise or fall on the basis purely of their athletic performance, while the actual production and performance on the field is ignored or at least minimized in value. Ryan Leaf had a stronger arm than Peyton Manning. Enough said. My concern with Jason Pierre-Paul is exactly that - his athleticism supersedes his football skill. He is a freak of an athlete - good size, strong hands, great speed and a frame that could carry a few extra pounds. But he only started playing football in his junior year in HS and was not recruited to a major college program. He spent time in junior college, where of course his dominance was predictable and he played only one year at the Division I level. He did well at USF, but because of his inexperience there, he did not even start every game in college. Generally, someone who has two years at the junior college/community college level and only one year experience at Division I, would stay for two years in college, build some experience, learn the game, enhance his credentials and enter the draft after his senior year. My suspicion is that with the expectation, or at least possibility that 2011 will be a lockout and further, that the next CBA will have some kind of rookie salary cap, JPP was encouraged and strongly incented to come out this year. With all that, in the best case his athletic talent may give him an opportunity to be a good player, but expecting him to contribute strongly in 2010 might be a stretch.

That's the bad news; the pessimistic view of drafting a great athlete instead of a football player. Let me put on my rose colored glasses and explain that there is a positive side to it as well. For one thing, with a name like Pierre-Paul, I figure he's got a great recipe for brioche that he can share with us. Furthermore, I guess we have to have some faith and confidence in the Giants scouting and drafting department because they have not had many (any?) draft busts in a long time. Another accomplished DE was on the board, available for them to pick in Derrick Morgan and they excitedly and eagerly opted to take JPP. They did scout him on the field at USF and they are making a positive assessment of him based on his performance on the field, not only on his ability to do back flips. There is no denying that he is a freak of an athlete, combining incredible speed and strength. He even showed that he can play the run in his time at USF and the Giants are not taking him because he was just the best player left with limited talent. They really love him and think that he can become a dominant game changing player for them. In the end, every player taken in the first round has boom-or-bust capability. Even the so called can't-miss players sometimes miss, regardless of position. The Giants scouting department scouted him and evaluated him carefully - let's hope they're right.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Giants: draft thoughts from a blog follower

I got an email from a friend who is a faithful follower of the Giants (and this blog). I cleaned it up a little bit, edited it and am posting it below:

This is a compilation/summary of the different thoughts and prognostications on who the Giants may pick in the first round. I have read through profootballtalk.com, mike mayock and his colleagues at the nfl.com, sportsline, the 3 stooges at foxsports.com, and even the used car salesman and Ellen Degeneres of espn. I threw in my own thoughts where noted (I watch an unhealthy amount of college football so only about 90 percent of what I think is pulled out my rear end as opposed to the typical 98 percent)....I have mentioned ten players, which means the Giants will likely draft no one from this group. In no particular order...

The Two GIFTS:
Rolando Mclain: When I first started paying attention to the mock drafts everyone had him top 4. He has played under Nick Saban in a pro style defense, and has been compared to Antonio Pierce from a football intellect standpoint. He can play right away and fills the obvious gaping hole the giants have at linebacker. The Giants typically don’t trade up, however Mike Mayock in a radio interview yesterday said he heard the Giants were sniffing around about moving up to 9 or 10 as they thought Denver may snag him at 11.

CJ Spiller: He has been compared to Chris Johnson and seems like a freakish all around athlete. I mentioned to wolfman at the end of last year that he would be a great target for the Giants, and he correctly pointed out that the Giants just don't draft running backs in the first round. As much as I would love to see a playmaker of his caliber, it is highly unlikely he will drop to the giants and if they do move up I think it will be for Mclain. I would love to see them take Dexter Mcluster in the second round if they fill a defensive need in the first round.

The Five Best Left:
These are the guys that everyone is slotting in to the Giants assuming they dont move up or get lucky and have Mclain drop to them.

Jason Pierre Paul: RED FLAG, a lot of people are high on him and frankly I know nothing about scouting, but all I keep hearing is he has freakish physical abilities and may be missing something in terms of football IQ. To me this screams VERNON GHOLSTON. Also remember, the Giants really need an immediate impact player out of their first round pick, not someone to groom.
Mike Iupati: He has been compared to Alan Faneca, and is said to have fantastic technique. What confuses me is that more then one of the big analysts have worded it that they would draft him and groom him to take over for Seubert down the road. Although Giants O-line did very poorly last year, again if he is not an immediate starter I really think the Giants would be better served drafting this spot as a “need” spot in one of their second round picks. Maybe a 3rd....
Joe Haden: Although a lot of big boards have had him free falling I can't see him falling to 15. The Knock on him is that his 40 time at the combine was less than impressive. I think he dominated in the SEC and frankly game speed is way more important then combine speed. It would be interesting if he, Earl Thomas out of Texas or Kyle Wilson out of Boise were still available if the Giants would draft a corner to shore up the secondary.( Earl Thomas can play safety or corner, which may be a nice safety if Kenny Phillips knee is a chronic problem).
Brandon Graham: He is one of those hybrid lineman/linebackers. He played on a Michigan team where he had no help but still showed dominant games. He supposedly has a great work ethic and great locker room leader type. I would love this guy, I am just not sure he really fills the biggest need. The same thought applies to Jerry Hughes of TCU and Sergio Kindle of Texas, both look like studs; just may not be filling the biggest need. (They say draft talent not need , so who knows)...
Dan Williams: This is the mammoth tackle the giants desperately need. This would allow Tuck to more freely move and stay outside, and I think take a lot of pressure off of him. As well if the Giants grab a guy who can really plug up the run game, it would allow Osi to only worry about being a straight pass rusher which seems to be his true skill set. Mayock thinks there is a lot of Tackle talent later in the draft, so maybe it is better value to take a tackle at a later spot?

The defensive players-picks to look out for: (early second rounders?)
Sean Lee- injury problems, he is a perenial pro bowler waiting to happen
Brian Price- One of those other big tackles who present great value..(won't be on board by their second round pick.
Sean Witherspoon and Ricky Sapp- dont know much about them other than some blogs have mentioned the Giants may try and move up early second round if they are still on the board...
Terrence Cody- Another mammoth tackle, you can't teach size like this. That said, supposedly takes off a lot of the time.
Brandon Spikes has fallen drastically, but on the field in college was a beast, and is likely on steroids, that or he has the craziest natural rage I have ever seen. May be worth the risk in a later round...

As a side note: This may be the most fascinating draft we see in a long time. Between waiting to see where Tebow is drafted and seeing if there are going to be any big trades go through( more rumors than I have seen in recent years)

ALSO: I heard a great point , dont remember who...The teams that normally draft really well and make great draft day trades as a result of being quick on their feet, lose some luster because the draft is broken up over 3 days and gives the poor drafting teams time to re-evaluate the board and who is available...

Comments anyone?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Giants: 2010 schedule

When last year's schedule came out, there were certain aspects of the Giants schedule that appeared very good to me - few west coast trips; late bye; easy early part of the schedule to get rolling and get the young WRs some experience as well as a few other things I can't even recall right now. We all now how it turned out, so often there's no real follow through on analyzing the schedule and figuring out if it is favorable or unfavorable. From the big picture point of view, the Giants are playing the NFC North this year which is a tough division. Last year they had two teams that made the playoffs in the Packers and Vikings, one of whom was a Brett-Favre-interception away from going to the Super Bowl. (Deja vu - Brett Favre's last pass of the season in the NFC conference championship game is intercepted, giving the opposing team a Super Bowl berth and championship!) Besides these two playoff teams, there is a third team, the Bears that seemed to have gotten their strong armed QB Jay Cutler straightened out towards the end of last year. They also went on a spending spree in the FA period this off season signing DE Julius Pepper, RB Chester Taylor and TE Manumaleuna in a clear effort to upgrade the team and try to win now. The fourth team in that division is the Lions who are still rebuilding, but 3 out of 4 tough games in that division makes that part of the schedule hard. Making this segment of the schedule more difficult is that the easier teams from this division, Bears and Lions are home games for the Giants, while the tougher games, Vikings and Packers are on the road.

Giants also play the AFC North this year, including the Colts in Manning Bowl II in a week two prime time game. Titans played sparkling football in the second half of last year when Vince Young replaced Kerry Collins as the starting QB. They won 5 games in a row and 8 of their last 10 while actually making a run for the playoffs after starting out 0-6. The Jaguars are kind of up and down from year to year and its hard to predict how they will play. The other two teams in that division are the Texans and the Ravens, both very solid football teams.

Giants also have 6 games within the NFC East of course and the two random games against other NFC opponents are the season opener against the Panthers and on the road against Seattle.

The opponents were determined at the end of last season, so there are no surprises there. The only variable that was announced yesterday is when the games are played. The odd things about the schedule for the Giants is that they play 6 games against non-division opponents before they play an NFC east rival. The first such game is a Monday night game on October 25th against the Cowboys in Dallas. The Giants have a relatively late bye, coming after week 7, which is good, followed by the road game in Seattle. In terms of travel, I guess this is a minor advantage - the Seattle game is the only west coast road trip and it comes after a bye, so the Giants will be well rested for the trip. But it seems to me that the last 8 games on the schedule are very tough, including 5 of the 6 NFC East games. The other 3 of those last games are against the Jaguars at home and the Vikings and Packers on the road, making the home stretch really rugged. The NFC East games are always very physical and draining on the teams and could sap a team's strength for a playoff drive. Throw in the NFC champion Vikings and a December 26th road game "on the frozen tundra" of Green Bay and you have a brutal home stretch of the season.

Here's the summary that makes the Giants schedule very difficult. Of the Giants' 16 games, 8 are against teams that made the playoffs last year (Cowboys x 2, Eagles x 2, Colts, Packers, Ravens, Vikings); 4 other games are against teams that are good and appear on the rise (Bears, Texans, Jaguars, Titans) and the opener is against a Panther team that destroyed the Giants in the final home game of the season last year. Add on top of that a very difficult last 8 games when the team is trying to gear up for a playoff drive and this is the most difficult schedule I can remember for the Giants.

At the end of the day, all of this analysis goes out the window, because of the old NFL adage: it's not who you play, it's when you play them. There are so many injuries, ups and downs and other variables in the NFL season, that teams that look strong can have stretches of a few weeks where they play poorly. Conversely, a mediocre team can step up and have a period of life in their season. The team's outcome depends often on when you catch these teams; whether you get them when they are hot and playing well or if you catch them when they have an injury or a problem or two to iron out.

Final food for thought.....the intriguing thing to me is what the NFC East teams will look like: did the McNabb trade help or hurt both teams? What will the Cowboys do personnel-wise as they get further away from the Parcells era and his player evaluation skills? Is Jerry Jones right when he said in his bar room brag that Parcells was unnecessary and a pain in the a$$? Can GM Jerry Jones make the right draft moves without Tuna's leadership? How will the Cowboys replace Flozell Adams at LT?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Giants: draft thoughts

I keep hearing that the Giants are very interested in C.J. Spiller, the outstanding RB from Clemson. He has great speed and is supposed to be a real game changer. The Giants RBs certainly had a bad year last year, both in production and in health. Jacobs had a season long knee injury and Bradshaw had two bad ankles and bad feet. They both had surgery to repair these injuries. If you were running the Giants, you could certainly be concerned about the long term health and productivity of both RBs. Furthermore, since Tiki Barber left the Giants in 2006, the Giants have not had a great passing threat out of the backfield. Derrick Ward was pretty good as a pass catcher, though he was not a real game breaking threat, and he is of course gone now. The Giants have weapons at WR and TE. In the running game, the RBs are good if they are healthy, but they are not real burners and they are not good in the passing game. A runner like Spiller would be attractive. The problem is - taking him at slot 15 goes against one of my draft philosophies: Never take a RB in the first round. There is way too much talent at RB that can be gotten in later rounds and there are way too many 1st round stud-can't-miss RBs that turned out to be disappointments or outright busts. Jacobs and Bradshaw were 4th and 7th round picks and were good enough to carry the Giants to a Superbowl. Derrick Ward, who disappeared last year in Tampa behind a poor OL was good enough to gain over 1,000 yards for the Giants in 2008, which proves another aspect of the RB-drafting philosophy. Giants picked Derrick Ward off the scrap heap and signed him off the Jets practice squad. Not only can you get top RBs in later rounds, but behind a good OL, even a slightly above average RB can be very productive. Just off the top of my head - Terrell Davis of the Broncos was a 6th round pick. While there certainly were some very good 1st round RBs, it is not necessary to find the great RBs in the first round. If that's the case, and if you believe in inflating the draft value of players based on the importance of the position they play, drafting RB in round 1 is usually a waste.

A few years ago, Texans were thinking about drafting Reggie Bush but ended up with Mario Williams. They were roundly criticized for the move, but even though Reggie won the Superbowl this year with the Saints, he has been far from a dominant player at his position. He is certainly an important player, but Williams is a star DE and is more valuable to the Texans than Bush is to the Saints.

The fact that the Giants are publicly dropping leaks in the press that they are interested in Spiller but are concerned he may not be there at slot 15 probably means they are not going to take him. Reese is very cloak-and-dagger-ish when it comes to the draft, always concealing and providing disinformation about whom they will draft. One thing that seems interesting - Reese has said again that the Giants may not draft a MLB because he thinks the answer to that position may be on the team right now. He was referring to young players on the team that have not played much - Gerris Wilkinson, Bryan Kehl and Jonathan Goff. Was this more disinformation or was he really sending a message to the coaches that he wants those guys tested and not sitting on the bench.

My opinion remains the same - the Giants need a stud in the front 7 and it almost doesn't matter what position it is. Giants remain very high on Clint Sintim and he is the type of player that can provide them with great flexibility in configuring the front 7. He is currently slotted as LB, but played DE in college. He can be a pass rusher with his hand on the ground or standing up at LB. If Giants get the chance to get a stud DE, they can trade Osi and fill in some holes at MLB. If instead they draft MLB, Sintim can keep playing LB.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Giants: off season musings

Jets look like they will be a powerhouse next year. Even though they had a mediocre regular season and got into the playoffs only because their last two opponents, Colts and Bengals, laid down and let them win, they still had a very impressive run in the playoffs. Looking back at their regular season, most of their mediocrity and their losses came from uneven play from the rookie QB, Sanchez, who made questionable decisions with the ball and turned the ball over way too often. It is certainly understandable and almost predictable that a rookie QB will struggle, especially with a rookie HC and young OC that, though he is creative and has good experience in the job, had only coached veteran QB's in his career prior to Sanchez. In the playoffs, when they played a little more conservatively and when Sanchez had the benefit of having an entire year of experience under his belt, he played much better. The Jets crushed the Bengals and had a really good win against the Chargers before giving the Colts a good game in being booted from the playoffs. With Sanchez more seasoned, with a great OL, and now with the acquisition of Santonio Holmes for a 5th round draft pick (a steal based on his ability and production) they are very well situated offensively to have a great year. Rex Ryan was very creative on defense and the and the Jets had the number 1 defense in football. In addition, now it looks like they have the horses on offense. Ladanian Tomlinson looked like he was slowing down the last few years, but if he still has a little tread left on those tires, he should be productive behind that excellent OL. The Jets have all the weapons they need on offense: two excellent WRs in Edwards and Holmes, a good possession WR in Cotchery, a good looking young TE in Keller, a tough young RB with a veteran behind him in Tomlinson and an emerging QB. Not bad.

I am worried about the Eagles. They beat the Giants badly twice last year (after beating them twice in a row the previous year including knocking them out of the playoffs). They got very young last year and now have gotten even younger by getting rid of their QB. In addition, they surely have lots of financial flexibility, because McNabb was by far the biggest contract they were carrying. Even though there is no salary cap this year, there surely will be one whenever football resumes with its collective bargaining agreement and the Eagles will be in prime position to pay handsomely for the few FAs they may need to push them over the top. In addition to their quality and the youth on their current roster, they are well primed to get even better and even younger. They have 7 draft picks in the first 4 rounds in what is judged to be one of the best drafts ever. If anything, the Eagles need some improvement in the OL and DL and this draft is particularly strong in those two areas. Eagles are set up to be a real strong contender for the next several years in the NFC East as well as overall in the conference and the league. Of course, a lot depends on how good the QB play is. If Kevin Kolb proves to be the answer at QB, the Eagles will be very tough.

For a contrary view, from someone who thinks that the Eagles killed themselves with the McNabb trade and are heading to a 6-10 season, take a look at Gary Myers article in the Sunday Daily News.

I am still puzzled about the Cowboys cutting Flozell "the hotel" Adams. They had a very good season last year and won their first playoff game in a decade. They have been very quiet with changes this off-season, not doing so much as even tinkering with their roster, signalling that they are content with their team. A big part of their offense is their running game which is greatly helped by their massive OL, the most massive of whom is Adams. He is a dirty player, having ruined Justin Tuck's season last year with a dirty trip that injured his shoulder. He also went after Tuck and took a cheap shot at him on the last play of the half in the other Giants-Cowboys game. Because it was the last play of the half, the penalty would not carry over to the next half, so he had a "free" whack at him. But that doesn't bother the Cowboys - they have other players (G Leonard Davis is one) that also take their share of cheap shots. I just can't figure out why they cut Flozell. In my opinion, his play has declined slightly over the last few years and maybe they feel he's done. But you shouldn't cut your starting LT when you don't know what you're going to do to replace him. I know Jerry Reese cut Pettigout in 2007, but that was Pettigout and this is a real NFL caliber LT. In fact Flozell is a five time pro bowl selection. Maybe some of those pro bowls came from the hype of playing for America's team, but he was undoubtedly a strong player. He's also apparently hard to coach and doesn't have the best work ethic. But.... five pro bowls???? Someone tell me why they cut him and what they will do at LT in 2010.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Giants: McNabb trade

It was really a surprise to see McNabb get traded from the Eagles; doubly so to see him traded within the division to the Redskins. McNabb has been such a fixture in Philadelphia for 11 years, it is going to be really hard to see him in another team's uniform. That's why the trade was shocking, more than on its football merits, though certainly there are some surprises there too. While of course this is a Giants blog, this trade, involving two NFC East teams has enough of an impact to warrant some thoughts.

I have posted occasionally about McNabb and have not been shy about saying that I always thought he was an overrated player. When he first came into the league he was a poor passer, not very accurate and not comfortable sitting in the pocket. His passing has certainly improved over the years and he has become a good (but in my opinion not great) passer. He does throw a fairly nice deep ball and has a strong arm to throw hard, short and medium range balls fairly accurately. His mechanics do occasionally break down and he will hold the ball too tightly, releasing it late, which causes him to throw more than a few balls into the dirt. Worm-burners is what we like to call them. His main deficiency as a pure passer is his intermediate balls which require some touch - a pass to get the ball over the LBs and drop it in front of the DBs. I think Reid recognized this and did not call on McNabb to throw that type of pass too often. Eagles used a west coast style offense which required McNabb to throw short quick slant routes, out patterns mixed in with deep balls. His intermediate routes were off of in-cuts, where the WR cleared the defender running across the field and McNabb could use his arm strength to squeeze the ball in to the opening. McNabb's great strength, of course is his athleticism, his running ability and his escapability in the pocket. Over the years, he made more plays escaping the pocket, running outside and throwing on the run than he did sitting in the pocket. Everyone remembers the Giants-Eagles playoff game at the end of the 2008 season, when the Giants had McNabb sacked on a play early in the second half, but he escaped and completed a clutch 3rd down pass to move the chains on the way to a TD drive that changed the game. The Giants strategy in his early years was not to blitz him too heavily and not to flush him from the pocket. Instead, they would rush in very disciplined lanes, keeping McNabb in the pocket and forcing him to beat them with his arm. This worked early in McNabb's career, but over the last several years, McNabb and the Eagles have improved and he has a good record against the Giants.

On the surface, this makes life much tougher in the NFC East for all the teams, particularly the Giants. Giants have beaten the Redskins 4 times in a row and generally have dominated the match up for the last several years. This certainly makes the Redskins a better team and a tougher game. While it is a risk for the Eagles, depending on how well Kolb and Vick play, there is no doubt that they are a very talented team. DeSean Jackson is a star at WR and the other WR, Maclin also is a threat with great speed. They could use an upgrade at RB, but their OL seems pretty solid and a decent pocket passer could do very well with that offense. Add to the fact that this is purportedly one of the deepest drafts in memory and the 2nd round pick that the Eagles acquired from the Redskins at pick number 37 overall, is almost like another first round pick. If the Eagles draft well, they could add two first-round-talent type starters with these picks and will have lots of young talent on their team. While it is shocking to see McNabb in another uniform, it is almost easy to understand why the Eagles traded him. They have a history of trading players a year too early rather than a year too late. McNabb certainly has a great record, having taken his team to the NFC Conference Championship game 5 times in 11 years. Placing this load on Kolb is a risk, but I think he will probably do well. In fact, if he is an accurate pocket passer, maybe the Eagles will be better. McNabb's contract being up at the end of the 2010 season was surely the motivator.

In that context, it's almost hard to understand why the Redskins made this trade. Certainly I understand that they have upgraded their QB situation and that Jason Campbell apparently does not have the talent to take a team to the promised land. However, the Redskins finished 4-12 last year after making the big free agent signing of Albert Haynesworth at DT. They were an old and often injured team, particularly on offense. Portis is showing signs of age at RB and their entire OL was battered and bruised. They fired the coach, hired a new GM and gave him lots of authority to rebuild the team. They cut several OL-men from last year's team and had one, Chris Samuels, retire. In fact the Redskins don't have a LT signed on the current roster and are rumored to be interested in recently released Flozell Adams. They even have made attempts to trade Albert Haynesworth and wanted to include him in the McNabb trade, with the Eagles declining that offer. With all that rebuilding necessary, why would the Redskins take a QB who is an eleven year veteran and give up draft choices to get him. The Redksins should have the outlook to rebuild, not to try the same old Snyder formula of acquiring veterans and trying to win now. Especially this year, where there seems to be so much talent in the DL and OL in the draft, would be a time to acquire draft picks, rather than shed them. Nevertheless, it certainly makes the Redskins a better team now. Maybe McNabb is the kind of QB that can upgrade a poor team and make it mediocre, but is not the kind of players that has the skills to take a good team and make it superior. A QB who has finely honed passing skills is needed against the dominant, elite offenses in the league that you are likely to come up against in the playoffs. But a team that has a mediocre OL and exposes their QB, needs a QB that can elude the rush and make plays while scrambling.

McNabb is probably considered a border-line HOF candidate. If he hadn't upchucked (literally) in the huddle in the SB against the Patriots and had won that game, his stock would certainly be higher. Furthermore if he had won a few of those other conference championship games, and had gone to, say, 3 Superbowls instead of just 1, surely he would have been thought of more highly. In a way, therefore, it might also be surprising that the Redskins gave up so little to get McNabb. The way to evaluate what a player is worth, however is not just by his career accomplishments, but also how many years the player is under contract for and how many years the team has control over the player. McNabb's contract is up in 2010, so this was more of a rent-a-player for a year rather than acquiring a player for 5 years. Redskins could sign him to an extension, but they could have signed him as a FA after the 2010 season also. So they are giving up two draft choices for one year of Donovan McNabb's services. Especially now after this trade, McNabb will surely shop himself as a FA after the 2010 season and the Redskins may get nothing more than the one year of his career.

Bottom line is that the NFC East got much tougher. Cowboys and Eagles have lots of talent and are both coming off playoff years. Redskins improved themselves with this trade and the teams in the NFC East will beat each other up again this year, making it harder for more than just the division winner to make the playoffs.

The only explanation for why the Eagles traded him within the division is that: (1) the Redskins made the best offer and (2) Eagles don't fear McNabb as a player. If it makes the Eagles better and they're still not worried about the Redskins led by McNabb, then why not do it. The Eagles had all three QBs on their rosters with contracts expiring after 2010. They had to do something. Time will tell if they got rid of the right player.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Giants: upgrading the secondary

What everyone saw last year but the GM refused to (publicly) admit was that the S play in the secondary was very weak. Although we'd like to blame it all on coaching and injuries, you have to put some of the blame on the front office for not stocking the secondary with good S players behind the starters. I posted earlier that Darren Sharper was available for the Giants in the last off season at about the same price that the Giants paid to get C.C. (can't cover) Brown. Darren Sharper played superlative football and helped the Saints win the Super Bowl. C.C. Brown played poorly and had his contract tender rescinded when the Giants signed another S this week. You have to put that down as a big miss for Reese. I guess the Giants think that the good safeties are in the NFC West, because after signing Antrel Rolle from Arizona, they signed a S who had played for the Seahawks and became a FA, Deon Grant. He is a steady, solid, though unspectacular player. He has played 144 consecutive games, so he is definitely sturdy. He is certainly the quality of a starter in the league, so if Phillips is a little late coming back, Giants will not be hurt at that position.

Giants also signed Feagles and another punter, who was an Australian football player, Jy Bond. He is purported to have a huge leg, something that clearly slipped with Feagles last year. It is not clear whether Bond knows which direction to kick the ball, but presumably that is what the coaches are for. Bond was signed before the Feagles contract negotiation was done, so he may have been an insurance policy against Feagles not signing or leverage to manage the numbers in the deal. Nevertheless, I have to assume that it is Feagles job to lose. Unless Bond knocks their socks off with booming punts, or Feagles leg strength continues to decline, the veteran will keep his job. One thing Feagles has going for him is that he is one of the best holders for FGs that I have ever seen. He saves numerous bad snaps and gets them down for a good kick. This is very important for Tynes, whose timing is easily thrown off.

The biggest news that we need to hear coming out of the off season conditioning program is the progress from injury of some of the key DL-men. I am very anxious about Alford and Canty in particular and hope they come back strong. No news yet, however.