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.