Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Giants: Titans game (again)

After review....

I actually forced myself to sit down and watch the game on the DVR and was not as horrified at the quality of play as I was when I was watching the game live at the stadium. Don't get me wrong - I love going to the game at the stadium and watching the game live. Aside from the excitement of the crowd, you get a view of the defense, the WRs and the DBs that you just don't get on TV. You can see which WRs are open and which plays the QB blew. But, watching the game on DVR afterwards, when you can rewind every play slowly and see the finer points of the interior line play is a plus also and something that you can't do at the game.

Anyway - the OL is not as bad as I thought. There are a couple of problems, for sure, but it is not as bad as it seemed. The problems can be summarized into two main ones, with a few corollaries.

Problem 1: Diehl. I love the guy; he's a real gamer, tries hard and is very tough, but he is just getting hammered all over the field, in both the passing game and the running game. He always had a little trouble against the real good speed rushers, but it seems worse now and he's getting beat by straight ahead bull rushes also. I don't know if he's having trouble with his balance, with his hands or just having a bad year,but he is killing us out there. When Beatty gets back from injury, if Diehl is still having trouble, I would give him a week or two to get back in shape and rush him out to LT.

Problem 2: Predictable offense. You know I always blast Killdrive, because of unimaginative, uncreative somewhat predictable calls, but it's getting ridiculous even for his standards. This is exacerbated by the fact that we have only two TEs and we use an OL-man as an extra TE often during the game instead of just once in a while, in short yardage situations like most normal offenses do. Think about what that does to the passing game. You might say that it's not such a big deal, because it's only 1 of 11 players and it does not give such a big clue to the defense. Well, it might be 1 of 11 players, but it's 1 of only 5 eligible receivers. It advertises that we're running the ball and if we decide to pass out of that formation, it takes 20% of our eligible pass receivers off the field. It therefore, obviously, makes it much easier to defend the Giants passing game. When the Giants use that extra OL-man, they run virtually 100% of the time. Titans typically snuck 8 guys in the box when the expected the Giants to run and when the Giants had the OL/TE in the game, the DB with the responsibility to cover him also snuck inside so there were 9 guys at the line of scrimmage and it was virtually impossible to run. Before the Giants had a somewhat predictable offense. Now, they may as well invite the defense into our huddle, because they know what the Giants are going to run as well as the Giants do. Aside from the 9-in-the-box that the Titans used, I counted 4 plays where, as the ball was being snapped, the enire defense slanted and flowed diagonally to exactly where the running play was going. I didn't see as many missed blocks or OL-men defeated in what they were trying to do as much as I saw too many Titans at the line of scrimmage for the Giants to block effectively. Giants have to dress 3 TEs and use Pascoe and Boss together when they want to give the big 2-TE look. They also need to sneak Beckum deep occasionally, even though Boss is very effective on those deep seam routes also.

Problem 2a: Giants OL and RBs are having some communications problems on blitz pickups and I'm not sure why. They have an OL coach who is reputed to be among the best, but the Giants seem to be having trouble with switches on those blitzes. On one sack of Eli a Titan LB came right up the middle and Jacobs, who was to Eli's right, should have crossed over and picked him up, Instead, he stayed to Eli's right and was looking to help out on a player who was blitzing on MacKenzie's side. On that particular play, it turned out that MacKenzie did a good job slowing the blitzer down, Snee helped out on MacKenzie's man and Koets helped out on Snee's guy, so that worked well. Jacobs was looking that way, but the OL did a good job and he was left staring there with nothing to do. If Jacobs had looked to the other side (head on a swivel is the metaphor they use) he would have seen the blitzer up the middle and Eli would not have gotten lit up like he did. Usually Jacobs is a very effective pass blocker, but both he and Bradshaw having been getting beaten this year and I'm not sure why. BTW - on the safety called against Bradshaw, it was a good call. Koets had a hold of the face mask of the rusher (he should have gotten called for a penalty himself for that infraction) and Bradshaw blocked him at his knees. It was the textbook definition of a chop block.

Problem 3: ST. Punting. Punt coverage. Kick off coverage. Return game. Fix it coaches! ST play is 99% coaching. While some teams may have some exceptional ST players, every NFL team should be able to field enough capable athletes to make ST decent. If this ST coach can't do it, get rid of him and find another.


I really don't like the matchup against the Bears. With the Giants problem on ST, Bears return specialist Devin Hester could score 3 or 4 times this Sunday night. With Diehl's problems at LT and particular difficulty with speed rushers, Julius Peppers, who abused the Packers OL this past Monday night, could break Osi's single game sack record of 6 this Sunday night.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Giants: Titans review - ugh

There are lots of indicators that this is headed for at best a mediocre season for the Giants, and at worst, it could crash and burn right in front of our PSL-burdened eyes. The worrisome thing is that the same problems have cropped up in all three games so far this season, even the one win against Carolina.

Giants have shown an inability to run the ball effectively as well as an inability to block consistently for Eli in the pocket, for the passing game. This of course points to a real decline in the quality of the OL and as I said last time, this is not going to be fixed by players just trying harder. Giants coaches have to take a hard look at the game tapes and evaluate carefully who should be playing and who should be sitting. A total remake of the OL won't be possible until the off-season, but some in season changes should be made to at least salvage the season and give the Giants a chance. Don't be misled by the fact that at times Eli has had plenty of time to throw in the pocket. This happens when the opposing team rushes only 3 and drops 8 guys into coverage, which seems to have happened a lot over the first three games. When they rush four or (heaven forbid) blitz, the Giants OL has shown a surprising and disappointing inability to pick it up and provide some protection. If I were an opposing DC, I would use the same conservative strategy of dropping 8 into coverage. The Giants running game is now very spotty, so the only way the Giants offense is going to move the ball and generate some points is by Eli throwing the ball down the field. Therefore, the strategy should be: don't let the Giants talented WR corps go deep on you, keep everybody in front of you and make Eli hit 12 passes on you in each drive in order to get into the end zone. More than that, if the Giants can't run effectively, it makes it tough to score in the red zone, so the defense's strategy is tilted even more heavily towards keeping the Giants from scoring quickly and let them hit all the short stuff underneath. I know this might sound inane, because every defense doesn't like guys to get deep on them, but it's the difference between being conservative and aggressive on defense and what the game plan is agianst the Giants offense. Let Gilbride call his hook patterns, which he seems to do 8 out of 10 times and contain those WRs. With 8 guys in the db-field against the Giant offense, and with them frequently sitting in a zone so they can keep everything in front of them, it also explains why every tipped ball that goes off one of the Giant's WRs hands ends up in an INT. The DBs are flooding the backfield and they're staring at the QB's eyes, so they know where the ball is going. The OL is a huge problem and it is worse than it really appears because the Giants have such a talented QB and WR group that sometimes mask the problem.

The second recurrent problem which is a corrolary of the one above is the number of turnovers that the Giants have made. As far as I can tell, only one was really Eli's "fault", that being the left handed pass he threw to Boss on Sunday. Because the opposing defense is keeping most things in front of them, Giants don't get many long plays for TDs. Even the long plays that the offense does make often get stopped before the goal line, giving the offense another chance to make a mistake. (Don't bring up the Carolina game - Panthers stink and that's not a good example.) Bradshaw puts the ball on the ground way too often for someone who is not a real speed burner. I would play Jacobs more often. The Giants WRs are talented, but only Manningham has true breakaway speed. Giants could use one extra burner. The other reason that the Giants don't get into the end zone enough on long plays is that Gilbride's passing routes are so predictable and so conservative.

The third recurrent problem is the awful ST play. I just don't know how to explain it. Do the Giants have such bad athletes behind the offensvie and defensive starters? Is the ST coach unable to communicate to the ST players how to get downfield quickly and how to stay in their lanes? Does he know that not only do they have to stay in their lanes, but they also have to run more or less together so they don't create cut back lanes for the return guys? (BTW - this doesn't see to be the problem - the returners are just running straight at the Giants ST.) The same problems seems to exist on the other side of the ball - Giants get absolutely nothing out of their return game, which sure seems to make it seem like its slow/unathletic players and poor coaches.

I am not even going to bring up the punter. He is embarrassing. If he were a baseball player, he might be pretty good, because he hits about 1 out of every 3 punts. I  know he has a good leg, but if he keeps missing the ball, it doesn't matter much how strong his leg is.

Defensive pass rush has been spotty. The DC has done some very interesting things and has been creative at times, notwithstanding the ridiculous coaching job he did against the Colts. I like using Kiwanuka as LB and he seems to be one of the best defensive players. Some players outplay their contracts and are due a raise; Kiwanuka seems like one. However, Osi is underplaying his contract and should be out the door. He makes an occasional play, but is not the pass rushing demon he is supposed to be and is paid to be.

When you have recurrent problems that the coaches can't fix and when you have both an offense and defense that alternately makes a lot of great plays and in the next minute makes awful looking ridiculous plays, it say two things to me about the Giants:

1. The Giants have some good talent at some positions on the roster but also have some real holes that they can't cover up. When the weak parts get by for a particular play or two or when the opponents don't take advantage of them, the Giants can make some successful plays. But when the holes are not closed, Giants make huge mistakes and the weakeneses are exposed.

2. The coaching is really mediocre. They can't fix the ST and the team makes the same mistakes over and over. If the coaches don't know what's wrong or don't know how to fix it, that's a huge problem and points to deficiencies in the quality of the coaching staff. But even if they know what's wrong and they can't get the players to do their bidding, they are also deficient as coaches, because coaches are supposed to be teachers. If they can't communicate and get the players to change, then they're not effective in that regard.

Maybe I'm being overly pessismistic and the Giants will turn the season around. But it seems clear from looking at the first three games that the Giants results match a mediocre-at-best forecast. The only Giants win came against what can now be understood to be an absolutely awful Carolina team. They may not win more than 3 or 4 games and the Giants needed a big second half against them in order to overcome a deficit and win the game. When the Giants played the only top team on their schedule, they were stomped by the Colts and when they played a mediocre Titans team, they did some good things statistically but were undone by a ton of msitakes. To me that says that the Giants will be able to beat the dregs of the league, will be competitive against the mediocre teams in the league and will get stomped by the better teams in the league. That sure looks like 7-9 to me.

Next post: what changes Giants coaches should make.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Giants: I'm officially worried


When I read in the papers that the OL just has to restore some pride and block better next week, you can count me as officially worried. When you see the OL-men use the same lame excuse that I used in my first post - that it is a hard place to play, it's so loud, blah, blah, I want to yuke. It's OK for me to say that, but not the players. I remember the last time the Giants went to Indy, with Kerry Collins at QB - he threw for 300+ yards, a bunch of TDs to Toomer, who had 200+ yards receiving, if I remember correctly. Was it noisy that day? I still remember the first play of the 2nd half - a flea flicker with Tiki Barber taking a handoff and flipping the ball back to Collins who hit Toomer for a long TD. Was it noisy in the stadium that day?!? I understand that the noise makes it harder to block because of the silent snap count, but for an OL-man to bring it up as an excuse.... and then quickly say it is not an excuse, just an explanation, I have to worry. The OL played poorly and were dominated by the Colts DL. There are a few possibilities: (1) the OL is really as bad as they looked and the Giants offense is going to stink; (2) the Giants OL is really very good and just had an off-night; (3) the Giants OL was once good and is now slipping - they are not horrible, but are far from great and the Giants offense and season will be limited by how much they can do.

Unfortunately, I think choice (3) is the likeliest explanation. The truth is that the Giants OL was never a great, dominant unit filled with powerful, athletic players. Rather, they were moderately-talented and exceeded their talent level by working hard, playing intelligently and working cohesively. Those last few attributes still may hold, even though we have all seen a bunch of blown assignments on blitz pickups lately. But if their talent has slipped just a little bit because of age and injury, and they can be dominated phyically and athletically by opposing DLs, no amount of hard work and cohesiveness is going to make up for that. So I suspect that the Giants OL will have a mediocre season. They will stand up to the mediocre DLs and have trouble against the teams that are a little better, especially from the purely athletic point of view. This is what happened Sunday night. I don't think Freeney and Mathis are great players; they are very good, somewhat one-dimensional, but not great. However, they are pure speed rushers / athletes, particularly the type of player that I assert can give the aging / slightly declining Giants OL some trouble. If this analysis is correct, than the suggestion I made in the last post, about making some changes in the lineup, by getting Andrews in the lineup or Beatty when he comes back from injury, is the only way to work out of the predicament.

Jacobs: Time to go

I like Brandon Jacobs - he is defintiley a different style RB than others that there are in the NFL. The entire league is going to speed, both in the running game as well as the passing game; Jacobs is a power RB in a speed league. Therefore, you could say that he gives the Giants a unique edge, a dimension that no other team has. He won't be as fast as the pure speed guys, but if he is fast enough, quick enough  and smart enough at hitting the holes to use his power, then he can be a real weapon. However, if he is a hair too slow, then instead of becoming a weapon, he becomes a liability. I thought he looked good in preseason and was hoping he would get his touches and carries. However, once he starts pouting and throwing his helmet, it's time to go. Re-sign Andre Brown and get DJ Ware into the game as backups to Bradshaw.

He threw his helmet into the stands and said it was an accident. He didn't mean to throw it in the stands. He did intend to throw it.... it's just that he did not intend to throw it in the stands. Great excuse. The helmet is hard and is a weapon. He's lucky it didn't gravely hurt someone or even kill them. I think this is much worse than the Plaxico Burress incident, because Burress did not intentionally shoot the gun, it went off by itself. I certainly understand that Burress was carrying the gun illegally and I'm not saying he should not have been convicted. I am just saying that Jacobs actions, in turns of potentially causing harm to others were more reckless and egregious.

Imagine a case where a person takes a gun into a public place and intends to shoot it at the ground. At the last minute, before he is about to shoot harmlessly at the ground, his hand slips, the gun points upward and he shoots instead into a crowd of people. Can his defense be: "I was trying to shoot it at the ground not at the crowd of people".  I don't think so - if he caused damage or injury to someone he would be 100% guilty and if he was lucky enough to miss everyone in the crowd and not cause injury, it would still be some kind of crime... reckless endangerment, or some such thing.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Giants: Manning Bowl II

The first few games of the year, fans of a particular team will go from the apex to the ash heap in a heartbeat. Your team wins one game and you're excited and poised for a Superbowl run. Your team loses one game and you're sure that they're the worst team in football and headed for an 0-16 season. Of course on this blog, we tend to take a more mature, measured approach, but in this case, I think it might be time, if not to push the panic button, at least to realize that it is time for some changes. The situation I am referring to, of course is the OL and the coaching.

I was fairly upbeat after the first game because Gilbride had a good game, did some intelligent things and actually made some successful adjustments in the 2nd half. However, he seemed to revert to form last night and did not put the offense in the best position to win the game. It's hard to completely blame Gilbride, because the OL was so badly manhandled last night, and this is not something coaching, schemes or play calling can fix. There's nothing that makes an offense look quite as bad as poor OL play. Eli is lucky to have escaped without injury. Perhaps they could have stuck a TE next to Diehl to give him some help on Freeney or a RB to give a little chip block, instead of sitting in the backfield looking for blitzing LBs. However, one time that they did try this, Travis Beckum looked back to Eli right before the snap, whiffed on his block and Freeney went breezing around both Diehl and Beckum and had a clear shot at Eli. Beckum stood there like a statue. Ironically, even a statue takes up space and Freeney had to take a wider path to Eli around Beckum, which allowed Eli to take a step forward and complete the TD pass to Manningham in the 3rd quarter. In a weird way, I guess this means that the strategy might have worked, if it was implemented more often. Of course, Gilbride is the most predictable play caller and designs the most conservative pass routes for the Giants. It seems like 80% of the Giants routes are these hook routes which puts no pressure on the DBs. How many times last night did you see a Giants WR run hard at the DB and come back for the ball. And how many times did you see the DB hold his ground and actually jump over the WR and deflect the ball away. Now look at the Colts pass routes which all had the WRs running when they caught the ball either down the field away from the line of scrimmage or parallel to it. If you catch a hook route, you have no chance to make yards after the catch. However, if you run slants, crossing routes or out patterns, you have a big opportunity to do so.

Fewell looked good in that first game, partly because he was going against the worst QB in football. Unfortunately, he seemed to borrow a page out of Gilbride's "predictable" book in the second game. Even the announcers were saying that the Colts were happy to run at the Giants when they had only 1 LB and 6 DBs in the game. To make matters worse, the Giants dressed only 2 DTs, sitting down both Rocky Bernard as well as rookie Linval Jospeh (who did not dress last week either). I guess the logic was that the Colts would pass-pass-pass so the Giants strategy would be to have extra pass rushers in there. Consequently, they decided to dress Tollefson instead. (Tollefson is the Giants version of Notre Dame's Rudy.... great guy, big motor, huge heart and absolutely no talent.) So the Giants dressed 5 DEs and only 2 DTs last night. No doubt, they analyzed that they needed the extra pass rushers, and furthermore, the Giants played Tuck and Kiwanuka at DT at times, so they didn't need as many DTs. If only the Colts had cooperated and passed the ball all night like they were supposed to. Then Giants could have generated a pass rush wth the DEs and the DBs would not have been obliterated time and again by the Colts in the running game. Because they dressed two DTs, they were dead tired by the 2nd quarter and I think we saw that the Giants run defense got worse and worse as the night wore on. It's OK to come up with a plan of what the opponents are going to do, in fact that's what coaches are paid to do. But if they do something different, you have to be prepared to change and adjust to what they actually are doing. Furthermore, you have to dress the personnel to do it. Sheesh.... this is not rocket science.

After the game, all Coughlin would say is that "we were out-executed". That's great.... how about out-coached? Saying that his team was "out-executed" is coach-speak for saying: "I had a wonderful game plan, if only the stupid players would have executed it, we would have won." Reminds me of the old Casey Stengel line, when he was managing the 120-loss Mets of the early 60's. Casey said: "I manage good, but, boy do they play bad". In Stengel's case, he was probably right - but it's not completely true with the Giants.

To demonstrate his point, Coughlin will run the film and show how the Giants defense got defeated time and again by 1-on-1 blocks in the running game, proving that they were "out-executed". However, if your defensive plan calls for 6 DBs on the field on every down and a 210 pound safety is supposed to take on a 340 pound OL man who (big surprise) flattens him, why did the defense not stop the play? Technically you could say that the DB was "out-executed" by the OL-man, but I would argue that the team was out-coached and a mismatch was created by the other team making it impossible for that player to succeed. It's the coach's job to put players in a position to succeed, not to create a situation whether they will almost certainly fail because they over matched. And then, complain that they were out-executed, to boot.

I am not ready to throw in the towel on this season, but the OL has to be fixed and the coaching needs to get more creative. Nothing much is going to happen about the coaching - Giants won't make a mid-season change. But the OL has to change and it's not likely to do so unless there are actually some changes made. I know that sentence sounds repetitive and redundant (actually, so does this sentence), but what I mean is this. Nothing is going to improve if the coaches just instruct the players to play harder and play better. If Beatty hadn't broken his foot, he would be (or should be) starting against the Titans in place of Diehl. Maybe Andrews should get a start at LT.

Before I get too carried away, let's remember that Indy is a tough place to play. The stadium is so loud that the OL can't hear the snap count and the QB has to go with a silent count. This requires the OL-men to look back at the QB or the C and take their eye off their man until they see the ball snapped, which gives the pass rusher an advantage. To make matters worse, I think the Colts saw something in the Giants timing of the snap, because there were at least 2 or 3 times where I saw a Colts DE raise up before the ball was snapped or just as it was getting snapped and actually was moving forward (though not crossing the line for an off side penalty) before the T got out of his stance, giving him no chance to make an effective block. So maybe the OL is not as bad as it looked last night (that has to be true). But they didn't look that crisp in game 1, so this is definitley the biggest concern threatening a successful Giants season. More on the game later in the week.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Giants: Panthers review II

We do have a new DC in Fewell, so the last blog post took an extra long look at the defense.There was a lot to be hopeful about in the defensive performance:  intelligent schemes, thoughtful use of personnel, lots of rotation of players and good personnel packages, and of course - stopping the run and getting a 4th qtr pass rush. Perhaps the most hopeful sign for me was the return of Phillips to top strength (if anything he's quicker than he was before the injury), a forceful appearance by Canty and the return to health and good form by Justin Tuck. It was nice to see solid red zone defense, which was a particular weakness of last year's team. All 3 Giant INTs came in the end zone.

But.... in all honesty, while the Panthers are a very good running team, we have to remember that the Giants defense did this against the 32nd best starting qb in football. Let's see how they do this week, when they play the guy at the other end of that list.

On offense, there were also some hopeful signs with some worries and concerns as well. The biggest worry has to be the spotty run blocking, especially in the first half. In the second half, Giants made some yards in the running game, mostly on the strength of a few long plays. But I think we can mitigate the worries with two points. First of all, when Boss went out of the game on the first offensive possession, they lost their blocking TE. Beckum is small and, while he tries, is just not effective blocking a defensive player that is much bigger than he is. Beatty came in as a TE to replace Boss in 2 TE formations, but when he does that, the offense loses all deception, since it is obvious that Beatty will not run a pass route. Second, the Panthers have a very quick LB group and they were attacking the line of scrimmage, mostly between the tackles in the first half. The Giants running game in the first half was aimed mostly between the tackles and some off tackle runs, but few real outside runs. Gilbride adjusted in the 2nd half and I have to give him credit for doing so, after bashing him so often on this blog.

In fact, I was very impressed with some of the things Gilbride did. The first play of the 2nd half was that pitch to Jacobs getting him outside quickly and it went for about 25 yards. That sort of opened things up and made the Panthers more outside run conscious, which gave the Giants run game some more lanes.

A profile of that play: there was some very good deception that made it work well. Generally when defensive players try to figure out what play the offense is running, they don't only look at the qb. When they see it is a run and want to figure out which running play is coming, they have keys that they pick up. They look at the G, the FB and the TE to see which way they are leading, which way the blocking is going and therefore where to run. They also look at the RB, because he is the one that is going to carry the rock. On this play, the OL surged up the middle, slanting slightly to the right, Hedgecock led up the middle and Jacobs took one step forward as if going up the middle also. The whole defense flowed towards the middle and the right side of the Giants offense. Then, Jacobs quickly spun outside to his left, took a pitch from Eli and beat the defense to the sideline with this little deception helping him. He would have gotten a nice gain of 5-6 yards, but Hakkem Nicks absolutely planted the CB he was opposite and Jacobs went for 25.

Speaking of WR blocking, take a look at Manningham's block on the Panthers LB on Bradshaw's 2 yard TD run in 4th qtr. He absolutely nailed him. WR blocking is very important for the running game, turning short gains into long ones. Furthermore, it shows a real passion to win and shows good coaching by the Giants staff.

Back to Gilbride - it was indeed impressive that the Giants actually made some halftime adjustments and got the running game and the entire offense going more smoothly in the 2nd half. In addition to the Jacobs run to start the 2nd half, I liked the passing routes he used, keeping the speedy WRs Manningham and Nicks on the outside, away from the 2 deep safeties the Panthers used in the middle of the field. Of course it takes a qb with great vision, a great arm and good timing to deliver the ball in the window of those zone coverages, but we have one of those on "our" team.

I also liked the sequence of plays leading to the TD after Bradshaw's 39 yard run. On first down, Gilbride put in Jacobs and about 8 OL-men in the game, trying to smash it in. Sensible call and it's worth a try. Everyone lined up tight and they had the right RB, Jacobs, in the game to attempt a power run. Jacobs lost 2 yards and immediately on 2nd down, Gilbride sent in 3 WRs, spread out the formation and used Bradshaw as the back. Defense had to be thinking run, but Eli tried to pass to Bradshaw and made his only really bad throw of the day throwing a pass that landed at Bradshaw's feet. Now it's 3rd down and Carolina has to be thinking pass, but Gilbride calls a draw to the right and Bradshaw walks in largely on the strength of some deception with play calling in the red zone and  a great block by Mario Manningham on the LB.

How good is Nicks - he is not that fast if you clock him in his 40 time, but he is (or seems) faster on the football field. He has great balance, quick feet, excellent body control and meat hooks for hands. The TD he caught where he jumped up over the CB and took the ball away made the defender look like a child playing a man's game.

I am expecting a big year out of Manningham. He took a while to really master the offense, but he is probably the quickest of all the Giants WRs.

The biggest problem is ST. Coverage on kickoffs was awful, giving up huge field position that led to 2 Carolina FGs (and some of the INTs). If they do that against the Colts, it's not going to result in FG, FG, INT, INT like it did against Matt Moore. Peyton is going to turn it into TD, TD, TD and TD.

Punting was terrible also, but I assume the kid was just nervous and he will straighten out. He was awful at the beginning of training camp and he punted better as the preseason went along, so maybe he's having some jitters as the regular season has started. (BTW - guys in the section right in front of me were the ones yelling "we want Feagles".) Punting is one thing that doesn't differ between preseason and regular season; the game isn't more complicated or faster like it is for the offensive and defensive units. If Dodge can conquer his nerves, he'll be fine. Giants will probably give him at least a couple of weeks to straighten out, but not much longer than that. If he has another bad week, they may start some tryouts.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Giants: Panthers review I

There was lots to be happy about from game 1 and also a few concerns that came up. First concern is around the TE situation. I warned in previous posts that it was ridiculous to go into a season with only 2 TEs. Even if they stay relatively healthy all year and don't miss a few games, there are certainly going to be points within games where they need a short breather because of a minor injury or just being tired. What if that happens when you're down on the goal line and you need a 2-TE grouping for extra blocking? Anyway, our worst fears came true when Boss went out on one of the first plays in the first possession of the year. BTW - it was clearly a late, dirty hit and I don't understand why the S was not penalized for it. It was the prototypical definition of what the NFL is trying to protect against - a defenseless receiver being hit from the blind side in the head with the helmet after the play has ended and he no longer even has the ball. Antrel Rolle got penalized for a hit in the preseason which was a much closer call and this hit on Boss was a full second after the play was over and Boss was on the ground.

Anyway - the Giants did what everyone though they would do - signed Bear Pascoe off their practice squad. But this now becomes a permanent situation, because they had to cut someone in order to make room for him. The practice squad is not like the minor leagues in baseball: you can't send someone down and recall them and then recycle them later. Once a player has a contract, he can't be sent down to the practice squad. Now that Pascoe has a contract, he has to stay unless they cut him. And to bring him up to the 53 man roster, they have to get rid of someone else. I was wondering if they would IR Beatty, but apprently his broken foot will only keep him out 4-6 weeks. I thought they might cut Barden who is bad on ST and cost the Giants one INT this past week without making any positive plays to show his worth. But apprently, Barden continues to shine in practice and the Giants are still high on him. So they cut Bryan Kehl, which I am really sorry about because I think he is really athletic. But he did not crack the depth chart as one of the top 5 LBs and so he has to be a ST wizard. This is especially true because Fewell is finding personnel groupings that include some of his quick DL-men to play LB (see below), making substitute LBs even less important. Kehl is the one that whiffed on the block Sunday that led to the blocked punt, so I guess he's not much of a stud on ST. It shows how transitory life in the NFL is - one bad play and you're gone.

I was very pleased with the defensive schemes, the effort and the performance by Fewell's defense. A few things you may not have noticed on TV and that the announcer surely did not explain:

In many obvious running downs, Giants went with 5 DL-men. Usually it was Kiwanuka and sometimes it was Osi who was wandering behind the 4 down linemen playing LB, coming from different angles making it very hard for the OL to adjust to where they were coming from. They did this on some passing downs also to get the best pass rushers on the field. One of Kiwanuka's sacks came with him looping from the right and coming right up the middle. (BTW it was the best game I have seen Kiwanuka play for the Giants.)

The Giants played a lot of single safety high, instead of the more traditional 2-deep. This let them push Rolle down into the box and provide good run defense; Rolle is an excellent run support safety. With the single safety high, you're daring the offense to throw the ball and with Kenny Phillips speed back there, he can cover up and the Giants are still not terribly exposed.

Fewell did a lot of substituions and used a lot of different personnel groupings, not just rotation when people got tired. There were specific packages to maximize the strength of every player and match the offensive groupings. I did not watch the replay on my DVR carefully, so I don't yet have the exact packages - more on that later in the year. If I am right, we will see a lot less of the 5 DL look in the base package against the Colts who pass on every down. We will see more nickel package in the DB-field and more of the quick LBs - Boley and Goff - in the base defense.

One thing I was very pleased about was how he used the DBs. Aside from what I mentioned above about one S in the box and only one S deep, when they went to a nickel, they used 3 safeties and only went to that 3rd CB when they needed 6 DBs on the field. This shows that the coaches know the personnel almost as well as I do. (jk) There's a big dropoff in talent between the 3rd CB and the 4th - Aaron Ross and Johnson. With Ross out for the game (he's due back Sunday) the Giants used Grant as their fifth DB to get the best DBs on the field, regardless of position. Giants are helped that Phillips has great speed and can cover anybody and Rolle was a CB in college, so he has innate cover skills. Grant showed what he can do with that great INT in first quarter.

Overall, we saw the Giants stop the run and get after the QB with a fierce pass rush, especially in the 2nd half. That is a great formula for defensive success, of course. Beyond that, I saw a great effort by Canty who, for the first time as a Giant played a great game and showed that he can be a dominant player. Canty even lined up as DE once or twice, was outstanding against the run and got a sack also.

As much talent as we seem to have on defense, as good as Tuck is, Kenny Phillips might be the best player on  the defense. His combination of speed, strength, hitting ability, instincts and football IQ makes him an absolute stud.

More later in another post on the offense and other observations.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Giants: Offensive outlook

After I made a fuss in this blog about the unusual decision by the Giants to go into the season with only 2 TEs, Boss and Beckum, the other legacy media outlets picked it up and are making an issue of it as well. Obviously, they copied my ideas and observations. :) There is an insight and some clues we might be able to infer from the roster composition about a subtle change in the way the Giants offense will play this year. Specifically, I've always felt that there needs to be a blend and a match between the style of the lead RB and the style of the OL in front of him. When your RB is a big old bruiser and you employ the power running game, you want your OL to be big also, to get a little push on the defense, get them moving backwards and let the power RB take care of the rest, blasting through a defense that is leaning back. However, if you have a quick RB, you want to rely on a quick, nimble OL that can quickly and ably move out into space, and make seams for the RB to run off.

I'll use a few Giants RB/OL combinations of the past to prove my point. The Giants first Superbowl team had little Joe Morris, a quick, darting back as its lead runner. The OL was smallish, but quick and nifty, they were called the Suburbanites (don't ask me why) and were very effective pulling for outside runs and shifting for traps and draw plays. A few years later, when a bulked up OJ Anderson was the featured back, the Giants shifted to the huge elephants on the OL including Jumbo Elliot, Doug Riesenberg, Roberts and Moore. They were effective at pounding the opposition, giving OJ some interior lanes where he could get going and use his power to finish the runs.

More recently, we can look at the Tiki Barber era, where Jim Finn was the FB and the Giants favorite play was to get some OL-men out on the edge and get Finn leading the play. Finn would not blast anybody, but would kind of engage the defender, let Tiki get in behind him and set up his block. Finn would just nudge the defender and Tiki would cut off him for yardage. When Jacobs became the lead runner, the Giants brought in a second TE in Matthews and employed a power FB in Hedgecock because it matches the style of the runner. Perhaps with the Giants going with only two TEs, neither one a power blocker, and using Bradshaw as the lead RB, it signals that they are going to be more of a perimeter running team, more finesse and less power.

The good thing about the current Giants OL is that they are kind of a blend between power and quickness. You can't call them a huge powerful group, I would say that they are more athletic than they are big. But they are not diminuitive either and can stand up to big DLs. They are quick, but they play bigger than they really are. Adding a TE or FB can change the character and the style that they play.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Giants: More roster stuff

There are some other interesting twists to this roster composition. The Giants are keeping 8 LBs. I thought that among Kehl, Wilkinson and Blackburn 1 or 2 of them would be cut; instead all 3 made the team. When the Giants signed Bulluck late in the off season and advertised that he would be taking over the middle, I thought Goff would be given some snaps at OLB, further cluttering that position and making it a certainty that one of the incumbents would be cut. Instead, all 3 made the roster. I think this shows several things:
  • The young LBs showed a lot of athletic ability in camp and did enough during games to give the Giants hope that they would be capable LBs, if not this year, at least in the future.
  • Sintim was all but handed the starting job at OLB and played his way out of that position. Goff really stepped up at MLB and showed himself to be a better MLB than Sintim was an OLB. Consequently, they shifted Bulluck back to the outside and I am actually very comfortable with the Goff-Bulluck-Boley lineup.
  • The fact that they signed Bulluck to only a one year deal and not a longer one indicates that the Giants have some confidence in the future of their young LB group.

The WR situation has to be considered a real feel good story for the undrafted rookie FAs that made the team - Cruz and Calhoun. Tim Brown was the favorite and played his way off the team with poor ST return performance and an absolutely brutal game at WR against the Patriots. He dropped virtually all the passes thrown to him and one that he caught, he did not play the sidelines well and was out of bounds. Giants have a very young receiving group, with Steve Smith, drafted in 2007, the senior member of the group.

The RB that the Giants traded for from the Vikings, Darius Reynaud, is an indication of how concerned the Giants were about their ST return game. I haven't seen Reynaud, and don't know if he's any good, but Brown showed that he could not do it. What a loss Hixon was.

Too bad for Bomar, but Rosenfels is a legitimate starting QB in the NFL. Bomar showed he has a decent arm, with a funky sidearm motion and at best, is still considered a project to develop into a backup. If he had shown much in preseason, some other team would have snapped him up instead of letting him fall to the Giants practice squad. It also shows that the Giants have high expectations for this season. If management thought that they were only a .500 team like last year, they probably would have allowed the team to sit and develop the young QB. The fact that they aggressively traded for Rosenfels shows that they don't want their season to be flushed away by a  short injury to the starting QB.

It is also very interesting that the Giants carried 9 OL-men, when they usually carry only 8. It could be that the Giants recognize that O'Hara may not make it back from injury in time for the start of the season and therefore carried Koets, who played well as backup C. Or it could be a more general, visceral concern that, beyond O'Hara, the personnel on the OL is aging, with Seubert, MacKenzie and even Diehl starting to show some age. Even if they play well, an aging football player, especially in the trenches, can get injured more easily and it is an important place to keep some depth. They also have Kevin Boothe still on the PUP list (I don't think he was cut) who could come back mid season some time to shore things up in case there are unexpected injuries.

Giants: Roster

There certainly were some interesting developments over the weekend for the Giants to get to the 53 man roster limit. There were also some very surprising cuts, at least in my opinion, leaving the roster with some questionable depth at certain positions; this roster may not yet be settled.

Among the biggest surprises to me was the cutting of Jay Alford and of both Pascoe and Chandler at TE. The Giants are going into the season with 5 DEs and 4 DTs. This is not an outrageous balance, especially with the fact that a few of the DEs are flexible enough to play DT. We all remember that Tuck would line up at DT at times in pass rush situations. But that is not the surprise to me. Rather, Alford, before his knee injury a year ago was a budding star. He had a real burst of quickness and could create havoc blowing up running plays and putting a pass rush on up the middle with that size/speed combination. Perhaps Alford didn't quite fit with the new DC Fewell's defensive scheme, which calls on the DL to read and react more to the play, engaging the OL-man that is supposed to be blocking them and maintaining control of the gaps to their side until they see what the offense is doing. Alford, who was an aggressive, attack-first player has a style more suited to the scheme of the previous Spagnuolo-designed defense. However, it is a pity that the knee injury so totally affected his career.

Alford has more natural ability, in terms of size, strength and quickness (note: I'm not talking about speed, but that first step quickness) than Tollefson, who made the final roster. Tollefson has a motor that doesn't quit, tries real hard, hustles, but is very limited as a DL-man. He is a one-dimensional speed rusher and would not be seriously considered to play in running downs. So, would the Giants have been better off cutting Tollefson and keeping Alford, thus changing the balance of DE to DT on the Giants front from DE-5, DL-4; to DE-4, DL-5? The balance of the number of DEs vs. DTs isn't much of a decision factor, so that is not an important criterion. The only tangible thing I can come up with is, given what I see on the field both this year and in previous seasons is that Tollefson, because of his speed, was able to play some ST, which Alford was not. Tough break for Alford, who had stardom written all over his play until that pointless preseason-game injury a year ago. Now that the Giants cut him, it will be interesting to see if another NFL team picks him up or if they shy away because of the knee.

The depth chart of the TE position is more perplexing to me. First of all, I happened to really like Bear Pascoe and not just because he has a name that screams: NFL TE. He was a huge, rugged country kid who was very physical and could block. He was not what you would call fleet, but has good hands, runs decent routes and could be a contributor on offense both in the running game as well as the passing game. But - let's say I was totally wrong and Pascoe is not as good as I asserted. Still - how do you go into the season with only 2 TEs? And.... one of them (Beckum) a pure pass catching TE with absolutely no blocking skills, and a history of injuries and absolutely no track record of achievement at the NFL level. Furthermore, the starter, Boss has become a decent blocker, but certainly is more noted as a superior pass catcher to blocker. It sees to me that the Giants are setting up their running game to be weak because of this lack of blocking help for the OL on the perimeter.

We can make a few logical deductions from this:

1. The roster is not yet complete and if a real good TE comes available with these final cuts on other teams, the Gants may take a look.
2. Giants roster has only 2 TEs but they are carrying an extra OL-man. In short yardage situations, Giants will surely bring in an OL-man in a tackle-eligible alignment (probably Beatty, who is quick and athletic). But this does not help on 1st and 2nd down, when you want the opponents to guess what you are running, not advertise it by personnel grouping.
3. Maybe the Giants are changing their offensive strategy and are going to rely on the pass and on quickness more, as suggested also by the Bradshaw promotion. Maybe the fact that they are going with 2 TEs and Bradshaw as starter indicates that they are not going solely with the power, down-hill running attack, but rather, are looking to open things up a bit more. We'll see.

More thoughts on the roster, about the trades with the Vikings and even a little recap of the final preseason game against the Patriots will come in the next few posts.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Giants: Backup QB / Schedule

Nowadays, with the influences of free agency, salary cap limitations and economic stress on teams, it is not possible to stock great players at backup positions. The days of keeping stars and high priced veterans as backups is long gone. As two examples that come to mind: in 1990 the 49ers had two future HOF qbs on the roster - Joe Montana and Steve Young (actually if memory serves, Young was on the 49ers for a few years before that, so the two HOF qbs were on the 49ers for maybe 3 or 4 years). From 1986 through 1992 OJ Anderson was on the Giants and he was an "insurance" backup to Joe Morris until he emerged as starter when Morris got hurt. Nowadays when the team invests $100M in the starting qb, they're going to look for an inexpensive, reliable backup. That can take several forms: taking a young, unproven player and hope that he is able to handle things; or a veteran well past his prime looking to hang on for another season or two. Sometimes you get lucky and find a career backup or a once-promising player who had a bad start to his career and is looking to resurrect his reputation by hooking up with a team that needs a calming veteran influence. Last two years, the Giants were lucky finding someone in this last category and getting David Carr as Manning's backup. This year they were hoping to go the career backup route with Sorgi, but when he hurt his shoulder, they had to look elsewhere. I completely agree with their decision to part ways with him rather than hoping his shoulder would recover and he could be a competent backup. (To the Giants credit, they put him on IR, rather than cutting him, which means that he gets paid.) There are two reasons that this was the right move. First, it's not like Sorgi is a proven commodity or an excellent backup. He played very little behind Peyton in Indianapolis and did not shine in the few opportunities he had to play. Second, the one most important quality you want from your backup qb is health. Let's face it - if your star qb goes down for the year - your season most likely goes down with it. What you want from a backup qb is to fill in if your starter goes down for 3-4 weeks with some minor injury, like an ankle sprain or the like. If that happens, you want the backup to come in and give you a chance to go 2-2 and not flush away the season. But if the backup has a bad shoulder, his ability to play those 4 games is questionable. You can't expect a star at that position, but you do want some health and continuity. The Giants would have gotten neither from Sorgi and it was right to part ways. The backup for now is Bomar, who has a decent arm but not the strong game skills to run a team. From what I have seen so far, he makes all the typical rookie mistakes: locking on to a receiver and telegraphing where he's going to go with the ball; holding on to the ball too long and giving away sacks; occasionally throwing unsafe passes into coverage. Unfortunately, those are not things you can work on in practice and only come from game experience. So let's hope Bomar does not have to make an appearance, but I would still prefer someone who can play to someone who is injured.

Just a thought or two about the Giants schedule: I think it has some difficult elements in it and is among the toughest in football. Since the NFL went to the 32 teams in 2002 when they added the expansion Houston Texans, the schedule became much more even and has less variability from team to team. Prior to 2002, the league had 31 team and 3 divisions in each conference. To be sure there was some expansion throughout the '90s and it wasn't always 31 teams, but the point is that there were 3 divisions in each conference, not 4 as there have been since 2002. Prior to 2002, each team played the other teams within their division twice, played one division from the opposite conference and had 4 or 5 other games that were variable dependent on how strong the team's record was the year before. With a strong record, the team played a tougher set of opponents and with a weak record, the schedule was easier. The point is that there may have been 4 or 5 games that were variable and easier/harder than your opponents in the division and in the conference, which could make a real difference in the season. Nowadays, with 16 teams and 4 divisions in each conference, there are only 2 games that are variable based on previous season's record and there is much more parity in the schedule.

Having said that, what you want from your schedule is at least a good split of the home/away games to make matters easier. The Giants this year play the AFC South and the NFC North, where, in each, there are two strong teams and two weaker teams. In the AFC North, the Colts and Texans are the class of the division and the Titans and Jaguars are weaker teams and more beatable. Giants also play the NFC North where the Packers and Vikings are preseason playoff or Super Bowl picks, while the Lions and Bears are weaker. In both cases, the Giants get the stronger teams from these divisions on the road and get the weaker teams at home, exactly the reverse of what you would like. The Giants play the Colts and Texans on the road, while they get the Jaguars and Titans at home in the AFC South. In the NFC North, the Giants get the Packers and Vikings on the road and the Bears and Lions at home. It would have been better if it were the other way around, but that's life. To make matters worse, the Giants get the Colts the second week of the season and it seems like every year, the Colts win their first 8 or 9 games, making this a very tough game to win. Frankly, I think the Vikings are due for a little decline from last year, when absolutely everything fell into place for them. But, I think the Packers will be better than last year and have a good chance to win the division. Because the Giants finished third in their division last year, the Giants get two other 3rd place teams within the conference: Panthers and Seahawks. It would be nice to play Seahawks at home and avoid a west coast trip, but here too, the Giants draw the tougher split and have to go out to Seattle.

In the end, remember the famous saying about the NFL schedule: "It's not who you play, it's when you play 'em". With injuries, up and down flow of the season, hot streaks, cold streaks, this is more true in the NFL than other sports.