Thursday, October 28, 2010

Giants: Cowboys Week 8 Review

My brother Barry has a saying that he is very fond of, which I liked so much that I have adopted as my own mantra as well. I may have published it on this blog before in a previous post, so if you've heard this one already, sorry for the repetition. It goes like this: "there's really only two things that I root for every football weekend in the fall: a Giants win and a Cowboys loss. And truthfully, if the Giants lose, but the Cowboys also lose, it's not so bad". You'll have to excuse my brother about the last part of that quote, about the Giants losing - you see he's a Mets fan, is conditioned to having his baseball team disappoint him and therefore needs to take pleasure in the failure of his opponents as much as he enjoys the victory of his own team. Nevertheless, you get the point - we love the Giants and we hate the Cowboys, so when we get a Giants win and a Cowboys loss on the same weekend, we are happy. When those two events coincide and happen in the same game, it is yet better. When the Giants are able to do it on a Monday night stage in the palace of the mastermind of the evil empire himself and the Cowboys are embarrassed into submission on this most public of stages, we are even happier. Of course, I am not one who takes pleasure in the demise of others. After all, I am a religious man, take my lessons from the bible and we all know what happened to the wife of Lot when she looked over her shoulder to observe the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah - she was turned into a pillar of salt for (apparently) enjoying the demise of others. Let me say this to Jerry Jones: Jerry, I never take pleasure in the failure of others, but in your case, I'll make an exception. (With apologies to Groucho Marx, who used this line in a slightly different way.)

On to the game: There were surely lots of good things to take out of this game and while the Giants absolutely have to tighten up their ball security, I am coming out of this game very high on the talent and the coaching that the Giants have, although I do have some arguments with a few coaching decisions, which I will get to later.

The biggest positive to me was the outstanding play and complete dominance of the OL. Eli was hurried only a few times, was sacked only once (the forced fumble by Ware's strip is considered a sack) but otherwise had time to sit in the pocket and pick out his WRs, who were generally able to get open against a weak Cowboys secondary. Eli helped the protection by reading the blitzes and getting rid of the ball early to hot reads, but the QB and OL are supposed to work together, so this is not a knock on the OL. In addition, the Giants were able to run for 200 yards and got all parts of the running game going. Both running backs ran inside for short runs in traffic, for medium length gains to set up short yardage 3rd downs and were sprung for some long gains as well. This speaks to total dominance - it means that the interior of the OL was doing its job in close quarters up the middle; it means that when they pulled to the outside, the athletic Gs were able to get out in good shape to clear a lane for the RBs by taking out LBs or DBs; and it means that the OL was doing such a good job that the WRs were able to take out a DB on the perimeter to make some of those medium runs long gains. The Giants also ran a few WR hitches and screens which all seemed successful, because the OL was able to get out in front of them and clear the path. Overall, it was the best the OL has played since the 2008 season and the steady improvement from the beginning of the year is promising. Seubert looks spry and limber and Snee was dominant, both inside and when he got out on the perimeter. Ratliff, the Cowboys NT was completely shut down by O'Hara, which gave Seubert the chance to give Diehl a little help. Pascoe was also excellent in his blocking, both for the running game as well as picking up blitzers when he had to in the passing game. Pascoe might be a better FB than Hedgecock because he is quicker, more nimble and therefore able to position himself better to make kick-out blocks and blocks in space. He's not quite as big as Hedgecock and may not flatten the defender, but he misses fewer blocks. If there is a measure for blockers on effectiveness of blocks, Pascoe has a higher batting average, while Hedgecock may hit more long balls. For the Giants running game, now more focused on the elusiveness of Bradshaw, Pascoe might be the better fit. Bradshaw executed a few good blitz pickups also, something he is getting better at. (He did it this week without getting a penalty for a chop block, which is a good sign of his growing awareness and ability to accept coaching.) The OL was shaky at the beginning of the year and is playing better and better as the year goes along. O'Hara coming back is a big positive, partly because of his own contribution and partly because it frees up Seubert to move around, to pull more, and to help out Diehl if necessary. Seubert was hurt last year and had a bad year, but seems to have regained his strength and athleticism and is playing very well this year.

The WR corps, AKA Jet Blue, had a great game, but they've been playing well all year and I expected them to play well against a weak Cowboys secondary. I predicted that Nicks would get double teamed and therefore Manningham would have a big day. But Wade Phillips, that tricky little devil, had this all figured out and wouldn't let Manningham, the number 3 WR on the Giants beat him. He would not double cover the number 1 WR, Nicks. Consequently Nicks and Smith both beat the living snot out of the Cowboys secondary. Of course, Manningham had a few big catches and a nice move on a TD run after the catch also, so Wade's brilliant strategy did not exactly work out for him.

A few plays stand out to me as important and indicative of how good the young WR group is. On the Giants first TD drive, Nicks made an unbelievable catch. Let's set the scene, because at the time things looked pretty grim for our boys in blue. Giants were down 10-0 after turning the ball over on their first two possessions; they had gotten one first down on a pass to Manningham over the middle (with a somewhat favorable spot by the officials) and now were facing a 3rd and 5 on their own 49. They needed to establish something on offense and show that they were not going quietly into the Dallas night. Eli threw an out pattern to Nicks which was defelected in the air by Terrence Newman before it got to Nicks. The ball dropped about a foot after Newman deflected it, Nicks caught it, but was ruled out of bounds by the official. Coughlin got a good look at the play, challenged the call and it was reversed. It was an unbelievable catch by Nicks, showing remarkable hands and equally remarkable body control to get his feet in bounds when the timing of the play was disrupted by the Newman deflection. I can emphasize how great a play this was by Nicks by using a comparison to tennis, a sport I know well, because I am an avid tennis player and enthusiast. In tennis, when you come to the net, the opponent often tries to pass you by hitting a low, hard shot that barely clears the net. When the ball hits the top of the net, changes direction only slightly, you have almost no chance of making the volley, because no matter how quick your hands are, you can't change the height of the racquet quickly enough to strike the ball. Yet Nicks did this with the deflected ball by the Cowboy CB. He had his hands at one height, it was deflected lower, and he had to catch the ball and keep his feet in bounds. When a tennis player is standing at the net and the ball ticks off the top of the net, he doesn't have to catch the tennis ball, he has the benefit of moving a 105 square inch racquet head a few inches to make contact with the ball and almost never does it. Granted that the tennis ball is moving faster than the football, but Nicks had to catch a heavy, slick, odd shaped ball coming to him at about 50MPH and adjust his feet as part of the bargain. It was an amazing play requiring great eye-hand coordination and body control.

I also loved the Manningham TD which required a great juke and sidestep by Manningham to avoid being tackled by the S coming over from his position. Boss and Snee wiped out the LB and one DB on the play, and the truth is, the attempted tackle by the Cowboy S Sensibaugh, was one of the lamest attempts at a tackle I have ever seen. It looked like he wanted no part of the action and he feebly ran right past Manningham out of bounds. It was as much testimony of the Cowboys mailing it in as it was of Manningham taking it away from them.

Finally, the catch by Smith in the middle of the field, when he pulled the ball away from the S behind him and the CB falling back towards him was a great catch. It was a perfectly placed ball by Eli, but he really did not have a lot of room to squeeze the ball in there and was a somewhat risky pass.

I loved the approach of Gilbride to attack the Cowboys secondary, but it was really stupid to throw the ball when the Giants were ahead 38-20 and there was only 3:35 left in the game. The only way the Cowboys were going to score was on a turnover and choosing a risky sideline pass towards the long side of the field to Pascoe was a stupid call. If Buddy Ryan was standing on the sideline coaching the defense, he would have walked over to Gilbride and punched him in the mouth. Everybody is talking about Giants as the top team in the NFC and I think it is premature. Giants have a lot of talent - I don't think there is another team that is better, but until and unless the Giants can cut down on the turnovers and make the ST more stable, they are vulnerable to any team, especially a good one.

Early in the season, when some teams ascend to a good record, everyone peruses their schedule and tries to evaluate if they have any impressive wins against good teams. Perhaps they are just piling up wins against inferior opponents and will crumble when the tougher part of the schedule rolls around. The Giants are 5-2 and I have to count this game against the Cowboys as a win against an unworthy, weak opponent. The Giants have played 4 teams that are now over .500: Colts, Titans (both losses) and Texans, Bears (both wins); and nobody is putting the Bears up as an elite team. The other 3 wins came against the Panthers, Lions and Cowboys all of whom have only 1 win and therefore can be considered the dregs of the league. Let's see how the Giants do when the schedule gets harder: Giants have to play the Eagles twice and they will present some real challenges with their powerful offense. The Packers are a good team that is injured now but will probably get healthy by the time the Giants play them later in the year. I am not overly impressed by the Redskins, but they have a ball hawking defense, so the Giants have to stop their propensity of turnovers when they play them. It is too early to start forecasting a record for the team, but the truth is, the Giants have not played the hard part of their schedule yet.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Giants: Cowboys game

Before I get into the details of analyzing the Giants-Cowboys game, which I will do with a post later in the week, I want to take a broader, big picture view of the two teams. Coming into the game, in fact coming into the season, the Cowboys had a reputation as being extraordinarily talented, with play makers all over the field, with a potentially dominating defense, with one of the best DL-men/pass rushers in the game in DeMarcus Ware and an all world QB able to make the big plays in crunch time in Tony Romo. Most of the NFL prognosticators forecast that at 1-4, with their backs up against the wall, desperate for a win to save their season (thought that was the jive last week when they were 1-3 facing the Vikings) their prodigious talent would finally come out. The only reason they were 1-4, of course was because of lack of discipline, too many penalties and an occasional ill-timed turnover. If they could just stop shooting themselves in the foot, the logic went, they would crush the Giants, turn their season around and get on a run that would take them to a Super Bowl in their home stadium. Of course, if you followed this blog, you know that I disagreed with these experts and that the Cowboys talent was overrated.

After watching the game this past Monday night, I have to admit my mistake. I said that the Cowboys talent was overrated, but I was wrong. It is not just overrated, it is waaaaaaaay f-ing overrated. The Cowboys have a few excellent skill position players on the offensive side of the ball - Miles Austin is a very good WR, Dez Bryant is positively other-worldly, and Jason Witten is a very good TE. But except for those 3 players, the rest of their offense is about average and their OL is well below average. In fact, there is not a single OL-man on the Cowboys that would start on the Giants (even over our favorite weak link LT Diehl). The Giants OL is much better than the Cowboys at each spot on the line, when you compare them man-to-man and even better than that when you add in the coaching, the cohesiveness and the intangibles of playing together. Of course, at the most important position on the offense, there is no contest at all: Eli is one of the top 5 or 6 QBs in the league and Romo is a guy who can play, who can make an occasional eye-catching, wow-inducing play because he can scramble in the pocket, but is nowhere near the QB Eli is.

On the defensive side of the ball, the disparity between the Cowboys and the Giants is even more pronounced. Cowboys have a great player in DeMarcus Ware, but if you compare him to the Giants best pass rusher, Osi, Ware might get the nod, but Osi is having a better season this year. Osi isn't even the Giants best DL-man; Tuck is a better player than Ware. Everywhere else on the defense, it isn't even close. Cowboys have Ratliff as NT, but I would take Cofield or Canty over him and in total, the Giants DL is probably the best in football and far superior to the Cowboys. At the LB position, The Cowboys have average players and the Giants LBs, thought to be a weakness coming into the season are playing outstanding football. (Ask Romo if he thinks Boley is a good player.) In the secondary, the disparity is greatest, IMO. The Cowboys CBs Newman and Jenkins are very overrated; both have a pro bowl on their resume, but that is more a function of the spotlight that shines on them from playing on America's team. The truth is neither would play much on the Giants - all 3 CBs that the Giants have are better than either of them. At the S position - the Cowboys 2 safeties would not even make the team - forget about getting any playing time. Did you see how Nicks abused the Cowboys safeties when he got into a 1-on-1 matchup with them. Even the announcers said - that is a mismatch, they have no chance against Nicks. That would not be the case with the Giants safeties. Rolle and Phillips both have played some CB in college and all three have excellent coverage skills. Deon Grant has been excellent and the flexibility they give Fewell in aligning the defense is one important reason for the defnsive success so far.

More than that - which dope constructed the Cowboys roster? (That's a rhetorical question; Jerry Jones is owner and GM.) The Cowboys have only 3 CBs on the roster. They have 5 players at the S position, 2 of whom never get on the field to play defense and are only on the team for ST play. What happens to the Cowboys if one CB gets a minor injury and misses a few games. Or worse - what happens if he twists an ankle, gets hit hard, gets tired, and needs to sit for a few series or a few plays in the middle of the game. We already know that their safeties have no cover skills, so what do they do if the opposing team goes to a 3 or 4 WR alignment. How do they play nickel.... who lines up to cover the extra WR (or 2). The answer is - nobody, which is why Gilbride had the Giants come out throwing, a sensible plan to attack a team with a bad secondary. The OL had its best game of the season to handle the Cowboys DL and if you can do that, the Cowboys defense is going to crumble; the Giants offense completely dominated the Cowboys weak secondary and ran for 200 yards as well.

We all know the famous Parcells-ism, "you are what your record says you are". What Bill meant was - don't give me excuses about what could have happened in a game, what might have happened, etc. Nothing happens in the game capriciously: nothing occurs simply by chance or by the stars aligning properly but is caused directly by one team or the other and sometimes by both. Having said that and accepted the "you are what your record says you are" as gospel truth, it is still possible to say that over the course of a short stretch of games, a few breaks, a few bad calls, a few lucky bounces and maybe a few good or bad coaching decisions can make a team's record a game or 2 better than what their talent could or should attain. That might mean that a 5-2 team should (or could) really be 6-1 or 4-3. But when you're 1-5 like the Cowboys, you've earned it. Cowboys are not an ultra-talented team that has had some bad breaks and bad coaching. Their roster is overrated. They stink.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Giants: A look ahead to the Cowboys

Last year when the Giants season disintegrated after the 5-0 start under the weight of all the injuries and the horrible defensive coaching, there was still one glimmer of hope to that sorry season. The Cowboys made the playoffs. Actually, that wasn't the hopeful thing for the Giants - it was that the Cowboys made the playoffs and won a playoff game. Overall, things could not have worked better for the Giants under the circumstances. The Cowboys won that one playoff game but did not get a real sniff of a title or even a conference championship. The result was an ending for the Cowboys that was bitter because one playoff win does not equal a long and serious playoff run. But at the same time, the Cowboys developed a sense of false hope for their future, and most of all, it led to a contract renewal for Wade Phillips. You know my feelings about Wade - I've blogged about him in the past. Suffice it to say that aside from the fact that I think he is a weak coach, there is also some history and karma there that benefits the Giants. As you all know, his father Bum was the genius that drafted George Rogers as the first pick in the draft for the New Orleans Saints in 1983 and let Lawrence Taylor fall to the Giants. Archie Manning was Bum's QB on the Saints which adds another subtle ironic twist. I was rooting for the Cowboys to win that playoff game, just so Wade would stay on with the Cowboys. As the Cowboys get further and further away from the Parcells tenure as their coach, they will slowly decline in quality. Parcells had an influence on personnel decisions and drafting and he had a major influence in the commitment of the players and their attention to detail. Phillips is more of a coordinator than a HC and more than that, he's a player's coach who can't bring the hammer down on the players when it needs to be done.

Having said that, you certainly have to admit that the Cowboys have an enormous amount of talent on the offensive side of the ball. Miles Austin has really come into his own as one of the best WRs in the league. Roy Williams seems to have gotten himself in shape and is making some plays, Jason Witten is always solid and Dez Bryant, drafted this year, looks to me to have talent equal to any WR I have ever seen. Even Jerry Jones can draft skill position players - they are easy to see and their talent stands out. The hard part is the infrastructure - the OL. Flozell Adams is gone and a competent, though certainly not overly talented Doug Free replaced him at LT. Marc Columbo is the RT and he is above average, but aging with knee problems. Leonard Davis, their huge RG is powerful against the run and and Gurdoe at C is very good. My point is that flashy WRs, which the Cowboys have plenty of, sell tickets but the OL makes the offense go and the Cowboys OL is so-so. With RBs Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice, a competent OL would be able to get them room to run for lots of yards, but the Cowboys are not running the ball well this year. That would seem to indicate that the Cowboys OL is not making space for them. Even though they have passed for lots of yards, Romo has been under pressure at times and has thrown a number of INTs. Some of those INTs have been bad decisions but some have been tipped balls at the line and have come when Romo was throwing under pressure, both of which indicate mediocre OL play.

The key for the Giants this Monday night is to take advantage of that OL and force the Cowboys into mistakes. Kyle Koiser, the LG is probably out for 2-3 weeks, although the Cowboys are saying he may play even this Monday night. That makes the left side of their OL vulnerable. Look for Tuck to line up inside over the replacement LG in passing downs and for Osi and Tuck to come hard from that side of the field. Using 3 safeties in running downs might not be so smart for the Giants this week, especially when Barber is in the game, because even if the Cowboys OL is not great, it is huge and the Giants may need the beef of that extra LB in the game to handle their OL.

On defense, the Cowboys seem to be vulnerable to big plays in the passing game, so I would try to get Eli and Nicks going early in this game. I expect the Cowboys to give help on Smith and Nicks with their safeties, so this is Manningham's week to shine. The big key for the Giants offense is to neutralize the Cowboys DL and let the WRs take advantage of the Cowboys DB-field. Easier said than done, because the Cowboys have a very talented front 7 and are good at putting pressure on the QB. Their best pass rusher is DeMarcus Ware and what makes him hard to block is that he lines up anywhere on the DL. Typically, he lines up on the weak side of the OL, where the TE is not there to help the OT. The key player this week for the Giants in their pass protection schemes might be Bear Pascoe. Giants should consider keeping him in the backfield to provide extra pass protection in passing downs and defending against Ware, whichever side he lines up on. Pascoe can even run out of the backfield and chip Ware to give the OL some help and release only when the pocket seems secure. Giants should use a lot of 6 man protection schemes and rely on their WRs to get open even if there was onle less receiver in pass routes.

The only team that has worse ST than the Giants is the Cowboys, so that may mitigate one weakness that the Giants have against most other teams. Even there, I think Dodge is settling in and will become a good and slightly more consistent punter the rest of the season, but the Giants have to be tight on KO and punt coverage because the Cowboys do have some speed back there.

The keys to the game are the Giants db-field holding their own against the Cowboys talented WRs and the Giants DL attacking the Cowboys OL, forcing Romo into some mistakes. It wil be a tough game because the Cowboys are playing for their season, on their home field, on the Monday night stage. I like the matchups however and I think the Giants have a chance. The Giants defense has excelled this year in games where they have had a mismatch in the DL against the opposing OL and that seems to be the case here. While the Cowboys OL is not as weak as was the Bears, it is still the weakest part of the offense, and the Giants should try to take advantage of that matchup.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Giants: Eli overrated in SI poll

There is a poll in SI which rates the most overrated players in the sport as voted on by a sampling of some 240 NFL players. Eli made the list as the 5th most overrated player, behind TO, Mark Sanchez, Tony Romo and Albert Haynesworth. He received 4% of the vote, which equates to about 10 of the 240 votes. My guess: they were all Cowboys who voted for Eli. I don't get why Eli makes this list - it has to be jealousy of him succeeding on the biggest stage in sports in NY. Perhaps there is a touch of dismay left over from his perceived manipulating of the draft, refusing to play in San Diego and forcing a trade to the Giants. Nobody likes it when someone makes himself out to be above the league. After all, other players have to go where they're drafted and can't force a trade - what makes Eli so special? (John Elway did the same thing, BTW, a trade that Ernie Accorsi was also involved in.) Is he somehow football royalty? Is it possible for a player to be both on the "most overrated" list and also on the "top 10 QB" list simultaneously. Eli's numbers, performance, leadership and wining percentage stands up to most anyone in the league. I'm not comparing him to brother Peyton, Brady or even Brees. But other than those three, he's as good as anybody around. There's this perception that his colleagues in the 2004 draft, Roethlisberger and Rivers are somehow better than him and that is simply wrong.

Eli was the hero of the greatest Super Bowl victory in the history of the game, making the greatest play in the history of the Super Bowl to get there. But it's more than just that one play to Tyree or that one drive and the TD pass to Plaxico to win the game. Eli displayed the best characteristic that he has in winning the Super Bowl. While other QBs may have a stronger arm, may be more athletic, may even be more accurate than Eli, no QB in football is as calm, as composed or raises his game under pressure of the 4th qtr or when the game is on the line like Eli does. Here's a statistic for you: in the history of the Super Bowl, there are two QBs that threw for 150 yards and 2 TDs in the 4th qtr of the game: Joe Montana and Eli Manning. Two QBs threw 2 TDs in the 4th qtr to put their team in the lead both times: Montana and Manning again. Eli put his team on his back in that entire playoff run, not just the Super Bowl and did more to carry his team to victory than his brother did to carry his Colts to their Super Bowl title. Peyton had a cake walk against the Bears and the Colts were a vastly superior team to some of their early round playoff opponents where they coasted to lopsided victories. Peyton was great, but he didn't have to be because of the superiority of the Colts. The Giants, on the other hand, were a 10-6 team, had extremely close games in all 4 playoff wins and needed their QB to be near perfect in order to get the title. Here's a comparison for you: in 1986 when the Giants won their first Super Bowl, the Giants outscored their opponents in the 3 playoff games by a cumulative score of 105-23 (including a missed extra point by Raul Allegre in the Super Bowl, otherwise they would have had 106 points). By contrast, in 2007 the Giants outscored their opponents by a cumulative score of 95-75 in the 4 games. Looking at it another way, the Giants outscored their opponents by an average margin of 27 points in 1986 and the 2007 title team had an average margin of only 5 points. One bad throw, one big turnover, one failed opportunity by their QB and the Giants of 2007, because of the smaller margin of error would have been an also ran.

Eli outplayed two sure fire HOF QBs in that playoff run in Favre and Brady, beat the #1 and #2 seed in his own conference and the #1 seed of the other conference in the Super Bowl, which was probably the best regular season team in the history of the NFL. How can anyone call that overrated. Some highlights of that 2007 playoff run and Eli's precision, in case you forgot:

Wild card round vs. Tampa Bay: Giants were ahead 17-7 late in the 3rd qtr and the Bucs pinned the Giants back inside their 10 with a good punt. If the Giants don't move the ball at all, the Bucs get the ball back in great field position and can move in for a TD or a FG to make the game really close. Eli leads them on a masterful 9 or 10 minute drive, eating clock and resulting in a 2 yard TD pass to Toomer right over Rhonde Barber who was victimized by an Eli pump fake on the play. That TD gave the Giants a 3 score lead and iced the game.

Divisional game vs. Cowboys: Giants scored first on a 52 yard catch and run by Toomer, but the Cowboys dominated the rest of the 1st half with two 10 minute drives both resulting in TDs. They scored that 2nd TD with less than a minute to go to take a 14-7 lead, the Giants defense looked overwhelmed, looked completely gassed and it sure appeared like the Giants were toast. They were going to go into the locker room with their tail between their legs, with no reason for hope and with the home standing Cowboys with all the momentum, pumped up for a dominant second half. But wait - Giants got the ball back with 47 seconds left in the half. 1st down - Incomplete pass. 2nd down - 20 yards to Steve Smith. Next play - 15 yards to Steve Smith with a face mask penalty tacked on to it. After two incomplete passes (one knocked down at the line of scrimmage by current Giant Canty), Eli hit Boss for about 20 yards down to the 2 yard line on one of the prettiest throws you will  ever see - over the LB, in front of the safety, while Ware was collapsing the pocket over Diehl on the back side. A quick throw to Toomer over the middle and the Giants in the space of 40 seconds on the game clock had completely reversed the score and the momentum of the game. In a half in which the Cowboys had the ball for about 22 minutes, the Giants came out tied 14-14. The life that he breathed back into the team was palpable and the breath going out of the Cowboys and the stadium was obvious. Everyone can talk about the two 4th qtr Super Bowl drives and the incredible game in the freezing weather in Green Bay. But for me, that last 40 second drive at the end of the half of the Cowboys game was the turning point of the entire playoff run and it had Eli's fingerprints, his determination, his cool under pressure stamped all over it.

Championship game vs. Green Bay: It's tough to win under those harsh weather conditions. Giants had two mild weather games in Tampa Bay and Dallas and now were going to the frozen tundra in Green Bay. This was Favre territory. He NEVER loses outdoors in the bad weather. In this game, there was one QB who was supposed to sling it all over the yard and the other who was weak and timid and would not stand up to the elements. Except, it was Eli who was throwing rockets all over the field for 250+ yards passing and it was Favre who threw the INT that led to the Giants victory.

Super Bowl: 3rd and 20. David Tyree. Nothing more to say. Like I said above: the most remarkable play in Super Bowl history in the most remarkable Super Bowl in history against the best regular season team in NFL history. Overrated. Right.

That was the playoff run, but perhaps my favorite game that showed Eli's character was an early season game against the Eagles in Philadelphia early in the 2006 season. Giants scored first on a blown coverage by the Eagles and a 50 yard pass from Eli to Toomer. After that it was all Eagles - their defense was all over the Giants and Eli was sacked 10 times. Going into the 4th qtr, the Eagles had a 24-7 lead, they were dominating the scoreboard, the clock, the yards and the play on the field. There was no reason to think the Giants could come back. But the 4th qtr started with Eli hitting Plaxico on a long in cut and he almost broke free but he fumbled, the ball rolled into the end zone and Tim Carter recovered for a Giants TD. Then Eli hit Toomer for a  TD. Then Eli directed a long drive for a game tying FG with less than 10 seconds left in the 4th quarter and with no hope coming into the 4th qtr, suddenly Eli had tied the game. In OT there was an exchange of punts and Eli took the Giants deep into Eagles territory. Brandon Jacobs ran down inside the 15 and it looked like they were set up for a chip shot game winning FG. Except that on Jacobs run, Tim Carter was called for a holding penalty that was a rather dubious call and the Giants were suddenly on the edge of FG range. Another penalty pushed them back further and on a 3rd and long from about the Eagles 35 yard line, the Eagles called an all out blitz to sack Eli yet again, maybe force a turnover and at least push the Giants out of FG range. Eli saw the blitz, knew that Burress was going to be 1-on-1 with a CB that he had a physical advantage over, he dropped back, held the ball as long as he could, knew he was going to get hammered by the blitzing safety and threw the ball up for Burress a split second before being nailed by Eagles S Dawkins. It was an easy TD for Burress on the other end who outfought the CB for the ball. Eli's cool under pressure and 4th qtr play distinguish him as a leader.

That's the QB that I want leading my team. You can keep Romo with his sincere look, goofy hats, his soulful eyes and sincere apologies when the Cowboys blow another game; you can keep Roethlisberger and Rivers with their tough demeanor and angry stares. I'll take Eli every time.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Giants: Lions game

This was a peculiar game. It had some moments where the Giants looked dominant and looked like they were in complete control of the game. But it had other moments where it looked like the game would completely slip away from them and the 1-4 Lions would be able to break their 23 game road losing streak. You could argue that the Lions made a few stupid mistakes, like the personal foul that gave the Giants another chance at a TD instead of settling for a FG; or the fumble that Deon Grant recovered that was the result of a drop, not a great hit or strip by the Giants. Many have said that the Giants should have dominated the 1-4 Lions (now 1-5) and that the Lions, down by 4, driving for the winning TD with only 5 minutes left in the 4th qtr indicates that the Giants were lucky to get out alive. They were favored by 10 1/2 and should have locked the game away early. That superficial analysis comes from an impression of the Lions from their 0-16 season two years ago. The fact is that although they were 1-4 coming into the game, 3 of those 4 losses were by less than 5 points. We all remember the opener against the Bears when Calvin Johnson caught a winning TD pass only to have the call reversed  and ruled a drop because of a rule technicality. I'm not arguing the rule, just saying that the Lions had the game won. These 3 loses were by a total of 10 points. They are a much more talented team than their record indicates; they haven't quite figured out how to close drives and close out games.

Giants defense against the run was outstanding. Their pass defense was good, but not great. There were a number of dropped passes by Lion receivers that could have resulted in more yardage for their team. The pass rush was good, but not dominant. It would have looked better, statistically at least, if not for a few scrambles by the Lions QBs that resulted in some good gains and nullified some good pressures.

Bear Pascoe had a huge game and he is clearly more comfortable in his blocking assignments out of the FB spot than he was when he first took over for Hedgecock. It seemed like on every big run, Pascoe was leading the charge making a good lead block. He even made a good catch on a swing pass that Hedgecock never would have caught and eluded a tackler to tack on a few extra yards after the catch that Hedgecock certainly would not have done. Hedgecock is bigger, but Pascoe is quicker and might be a more effective player at the position. I go back to my preseason blog post where I praised Pascoe profusely and was certain that he was going to make the team. I was shocked that he did not and that the Giants carried only 2 TEs coming into the season. I hope his play has cemented his position on the team. He is definitely a keeper.

The OL is definitely coming around, especially in the running game and the Giants are near the top of the league in rushing yardage. But Diehl is still a weak link on this OL. On the two sacks that the Giants gave up on Sunday, one was right through Diehl. The second was really on Eli - he had an empty backfield and held the ball too long - allowing Suh to loop around and make the sack. I've been saying this for weeks now - Diehl is the weak link on the OL and every game he takes points off the board for us. On the first series of the game, when Eli missed a wide open Hicks on a deep post, he had to throw the ball early because Diehl let his man through and was about to clock Eli if he did not release it at that moment. Eli said in an interview after the game that because he threw it a little earlier than he wanted to, he had to guess exactly what angle Nicks was taking on his post route and he guessed wrong. With a great LT, Giants would have had two more TDs on Sunday. Nicks was in single coverage several times on Sunday and the Giants could have taken some shots deep if they had confidence that the pass blocking would hold up the extra second it takes for those downfield plays to develop. I sure hope they are at least planning on experimenting with Beatty at the position when he comes back from his foot injury, although it will be hard to experiment in the last 8 games of the year. Giants have 10 games left and 6 are against division opponents, which will be really tough games.

Eli was pretty good Sunday. Of his 10 incomplete passes, 4 were because he was rushed and threw the ball away, 1 was on a screen pass where the play fell apart and he threw it into the ground intentionally.

Antrel Rolle took a bad angle to the ball on Calvin Johnson's long TD pass. Terrell Thomas undercut the route looking to make a play on the ball, and Rolle should only undercut the receiver when he is jumping the route and is 99% sure he can make a play on the ball. Otherwise - he is a safety, which means he should keep everything in front of him. Later in the game, Kenny Phillips demonstrated how it should be done by giving help to Corey Webster on a deep sideline pass and arriving from behind to hit the WR just as the ball was arriving.

The Giants right side of the OL was very productive. Even when the Giants brought in Andrews as an eligible receiver and put him on the left side of the OL as an extra TE, they still ran back to the weak side and made good yardage behind Snee and MacKenzie.

It looks like the punter is starting to come around and we finally saw why Coughlin had so much patience with him. He has a huge leg. Even though he fumbled the snap on his first punt, giving the Lions a short field for their first score, he absolutely nailed a few other punts and didn't shank any of them. Maybe he's getting closer to become a real putner. On the first good punt he hit which was downed on the 4, Chase Blackburn got credit for covering the ball. But Zak DeOssie, who is the long snapper made a huge play by beating everyone downfield, slapping the ball back into the field of play when it looked like it would go into the end zone for a touch back. Great hustle by DeOssie. (Still my favorite trivia question - DeOssies are the only father/son combination to win superbowls for the same franchise.)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Giants: ST and a look ahead to Lions game

One more observation about the Texans game is that the ST play was better than it had been all year. This was the first game that the Giants did not give up a long KO or punt return and put the defense in a serious disadvantage. The KO coverage was very good and Texans have good team speed and good return men, so this was a good accomplishment. There are a few reasons for the improved kick coverage. First, Blackburn came back from injury and he is one of the best ST players the Giants have. Second, JPP is starting to understand the ST coverage lanes and responsibilities, which is very important since he can be an absolute killer on ST with his great size, speed and athleticism. Third, the ST coach must have had a fire lit under him by the poor play up until now (the midseason firing of the Miami ST coach after the disaster there a few weeks ago was probably a great motivator). The coach was able to sell this motivation to the players. (Speaking of poor ST coaches - did you see what happened to the Chargers last week - they had a bunch of kicks blocked and it cost them the game.) Finally, it looks to me like the Giants used a few starters on ST - better athletes means better coverage. I thought I saw Boley and Grant on ST - it is hard to tell on TV.

Dodge was replaced by Rosenfels as holder, which was recommended right here on this blog last week. Rosenfels did well, pulling down one high snap and always getting the laces out (just as Lawrence Tynes and Ray Finkel prefer). Dodge did a little better with his punts, but still missed too many to make me feel confident. he does have a big leg, so when he gets into one, it really sails. But this is not baseball - 1 for 3 is not good enough. My analogy is to a shooting guard in basketball. I don't want a shooting guard who can make a really amazing loooooong 3 point shot  as the buzzer expires, once every 4 or 5 games. I want a point guard that will hit 80% of his open 17 foot jump shots. It's nice to have  punter than can nail a 60 yarder every so often, but I would rather have someone get 40-45 with good hang time every time

The Lions will not be the pushover that everyone thinks they will be or as indicated by the 10 point spread. The Lions have been in every game this year despite being 1-4. They have a great, speedy RB in Jahvid Best and a freak of an athlete at WR in Calvin Johnson. They also have a great kick returner and we know that the Giants have been weak at ST much of the season. Their offense is really good, even though they have a somewhat shaky OL. If the Giants can take advantage of their OL, they can keep the Lions strong skill position players in check. But if not, the Lions could put some points up on the board. The Lions do have a shaky defense, so the Giants should be productive on offense. But the new DT the Lions drafted, Suh, is apparently everything that was predicted of him. Look for the Giants to double team him in the middle, run outside a bit more than usual and challenge the Lions with their passing game.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Giants: Texans game review II

Giants offense moved the ball very effectively, especially in the first half of the game and the really good thing to take away form the game is that they pushed the ball into the end zone instead of settling for FGs. Perhaps more important, they took advantage of the field position they got on Corey Webster's INT and turned that into a TD also. Unlike the Bears game, where the Giants twice wasted short fields from turnovers, in this game, they cashed in. In the 3rd QTR the Giants offense regressed a little bit and did not respond quickly enough to the Texans half time adjustments. But they caught on in the 4th QTR, restored order and put the game away.

In the first half, the Texans played primarily zone in their DB-field and gave very soft coverage on Hakeem Nicks, figuring that the inexperienced second year player would not figure out the zone coverage and therefore would not hurt them. Not the best scouting and coaching job by the Texans, because, as you all saw, Nicks toasted the Texans DBs especially in the first half. The reason I say that this was bad scouting and coaching is that it might be fair to say that Nicks strength is his football IQ, his route running and his running after the catch, which certainly allows him to attack a zone. He is not a pure burner but relies on understanding the defense to make his plays. It is true that in one-on-one match ups, he is able to use his physical skills, his body control and great ability to make adjustments on the balls in flight to pluck the ball away from the defender. Notwithstanding these skills, he is also a zone killer as he showed in the first half. In the second half, the Texans played more man underneath with zone coverage on top from the safeties and this resulted in Eli's two picks. When OC Gilbride figured out what the Texans were doing (it shouldn't have taken him a whole quarter to do so) he got the offense back in rhythm by calling different routes and the Giants offense closed out the game well.

I see the Giants OL continuing to improve game by game. Frankly I was concerned about the Mario Williams-David Diehl matchup, but Diehl did a decent job on him. Williams may have been a little nicked up and did not play with as much force as he could have, but Diehl, nevertheless did a good job.

It is interesting that the Giants are slowly morphing into a pass first offense and I think there are several reasons for this. For one thing, the Giants have really talented WRs and a smart QB. For another thing, more and more teams are playing 8-in-the-box against the Giants and in fact, it is a league-wide trend for all teams to load up against the run in early downs. It was also nice to see that Gilbride is working some slants, crossing routes and out patterns instead of the restricted diet of hooks and seam routes that used to be the staple of the offense. Nicks and Mannigham are both really good after the catch and getting them to catch the ball on the move in space enhances their ability to make plays. I can't wait until Gilbride throws in a double move off of an out pattern to Nicks. The defense would bite hard because the only way to break up one of thos eplays, especially with Eli's accuracy at hitting the back shoulder, is for the DB to really commi and drive very ahrd on the ball. A little pump fake by Eli and an out-and-up go route would be perfect.

One interesting thing about the Giants running plays is the cut back ability of Bradshaw and the nature of his running style. Some people see this as a weakness in the Giants OL and running game. The play is designed to go to the left, there is no hole there, Bradshaw reverses field, cuts back and makes yards back on the right side. Is this an indication that the OL did not do its job because there was no hole where the play was originally designed to go? I think not, for two reasons. First of all, the RBs do not cut back on every play, they are hitting the holes where they are supposed to be more often than it seems. Bradshaw's cut back runs are pretty and therefore memorable, but he sticks with the primary hole more often than it seems. Second, and perhaps most important, the Giants blocking patterns and OL work to enable these cut backs and they can almost be considered designed cut backs. For example, here's the anatomy of one play that I saw the Giants run when Bradshaw cut back and made good yardage on it. LT Diehl and LG Seubert fired out to their left, pushing the RDE and RDT back and further to the left of the offense trying to create a hole in this area, between the LT and the LG. Meanwhile, the right side of the OL was considered the back side of the play and instead of blocking their man straight ahead, they moved slightly forward and diagonally to their left, trying to create a vertical wall sealing the backside of the defense and creating a second hole up the middle, between the C and the LG. Bradshaw started out to his left going towards the hole between the LG and LT and there was a small hole there. The Texans LBs flowed in this direction, reading their keys of the left side of the OL and seeing Bradshaw heading towards this hole. But when Bradshaw got near the hole, he cut back up the middle and used the seal created by the right side of the OL on the back side of the defense to scoot up the middle and gain about 15 yards. Because of that back side seal, it was almost a designed cut back. the Giants are designing their blocking and run plays to suit the skill and style of Bradshaw, which actually is not dissimilar to what they did when Tiki was the featured RB and had similar cut back abilities to what Bradshaw is showing.

Eli has to stop the INTs. I know that 4 or 5 of the INTs were happenstance because of tipped balls. But the left handed pass against the Bears and the 2 INTs Sunday against the Texans were bad decisions and bad throws. He just has to cut that out and the Giants need to cut down on turnovers.

Despite the slowness to re-adjust to the Texans half time adjustments, Gilbride called a good game. He saw the weakness in the Texans pass defense and attacked it. There was enough running to keep things in balance, but Giants won this game through the air.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Giants: Texans game review

It's amazing how quickly things change in the NFL (NFL=Not For Long). Two weeks ago Tiki was explaining that Coughlin had lost the locker room, that the team had no leadership and that Coughlin's job was on the line. Of course, he qualified his remarks by saying that he doesn't spend as much time as he used to in the locker room talking to players. (I guess no time at all qualifies as "not as much".) A little more in a later post on Tiki and what a self serving, self aggrandizing dope he is, but for now let's stick to the topic. All of a sudden, the Giants players are crowing about the team feeling and chemistry in the locker room. How everyone understands that despite the strict rules, Coughlin is trying to instill a professional attitude, accountability, structure and discipline and they understand that it's good for the team. (After watching the Cowboys gain 500 yards on offense and lose the game largely because of a celebration penalty in the end zone, who's questioning the requirements for some discipline?). Like I said: Not For Long. To be fair, it's not an unreasonable question to ask whether a 60 year old coach can relate to players half his age, but it is undeniable that Coughlin has won at every level, is honest with great integrity and has no ego that gets in the way of his team first approach. Winning cures a lot of things, I guess.

It's also interesting how the NFL experts, prognosticators and forecasters change their tunes from week to week to make themselves look smart. Going into the Giants-Texans game, everyone was promoting the Texans as the new darlings of the NFL. They were an up and coming team with a diversified offense, an excellent young QB, the best WR in football in Andre Johnson and the next Chris Johnson/Adrian Peterson to burst onto the scene in rookie RB Foster. The word was that the Giants defense may have been able to stop the Bears who had a crippled OL, but the Texans would move the ball up and down the field all day against them and put up 28+ points. Then after the Giants defense completely took them apart, held them to an embarrassingly low yardage total, gave up no TDs save for the one the Texans got after starting inside the Giants 20 because of an INT, the same analysts are changing their tune. The Texans are not that good, they have a bad OL, their offense is very simple. Yada, yada, yada. Anything but saying that the Giants defense is really good. That can't be the case, because they didn't say that at the beginning of the season. What a bunch of dopes.

The truth about the Giants defense, their true strength probably lies somewhere in between how good they looked the last two week and how awfully they got stomped by the Colts in week 2. I am a big believer in examining matchups in sports and these last two matchups happened to be very good for the Giants. The Texans are a team with a lot of good skill position players a very good passing QB, an OL that blocks well for the run, but somehow seems vulnerable to a good pass rush. The Giants, even without Kiwanuka, one of their best players have an excellent DL and they beat the daylights out of the Texans OL. To be fair, the Texans were missing their starting LT which gave the Giants another advantage, but still - they completely dominated the line of scrimmage. The Texans OL is not as bad as the Bears was the week before; after all the Texans had the top rushing RB in the league coming into the game and you need a good OL for that. The Giants DL shut down the run entirely and when the Texans had to go to the pass, the Giants got really great pressure, mostly from the DL, with very few blitzes mixed in, and had 3 sacks as well. They also knocked down 4 passes at the line of scrimmage with Chris (6'8") Canty getting 2. You have to be very pleased with the performance of the defense through the first 5 games of the season, giving them a little pass with their debacle against the Colts. Everyone knew that the Giants had talent and pass rushing ability in the DL, but the following points that we didn't know coming into the season makes them a potentially very strong defense all year:
1. Safety play: Phillips coming back from his knee surgery was a big unknown and, while he is still regaining his form, he has already shown how good he is. Rolle is playing very well as was expected, but he is a much better run stopper than we had reason to expect. He is a great tackler and an excellent "in the box" safety, with enough speed and ball hawking skills to get back in coverage as well. But the big surprise at the safety position for me has been the play of Deon Grant - he has been playing exceptionally well and was a great FA addition.

2. DT: Canty was a strong player with the Cowboys, but in the 3-4 defense that they play in Dallas, even though he was nominally a DE there, his role was more of a space eater and run stuffer, blocking up the middle freeing the Cowboys dynamic edge rushers, Ware and Spears to freelance and run wild. He was a question mark - especially after his injury filled first year with the Giants as to whether he could fit as a 4-3 DT and move around just a bit more. Canty came into camp this year trimmer than he had last year and has been playing absolutely spectacular football. Despite the fact that he is trimmer, he is still a mountain of a man, nearly impossible to move and he has incredible quickness and timing for such a large man. When Canty gets a push up the middle, the Giants pass rush is absolutely deadly. Cofield, who has also been playing very well, apparently fully recovered from his knee surgery two off-seasons ago, only adds to the strength of the middle of the defense. The reason a push up the middle is so important is that it matches very well with the speed edge rushers the Giants have. When a DE beats the T around the edge, the QB is taught to step forward away from his rush and the T is taught to reach out and push the DE just a little bit, making his path to the QB a little wider, giving the QB even more room to step forward into the pocket. When there is a big push up the middle, there is nowhere for the QB to go. It is one reason why Osi has suddenly awoken and looks like a better player again. Giants get a rush up the middle, either from the DTs, from a LB blitz, from a looping DE on the other side or one who takes an inside pass rush and Osi's wide path around the LT takes him right to the QB. Canty also has great timing and has knocked down several passes at the line of scrimmage already this year. (He used to do that to Eli twice a game when the Giants played the 'Boys, now I'm glad he's doing it for the men in blue.)

3. Jonathan Goff has been playing great and is getting better each game; he seems to be in the right position, around the ball, nearly all the time. He was always really quick and now has bulked up a little, definitely built up his upper body strength, without losing his quickness. His understanding of the defense and his reading of the offensive sets is growing weekly. This past week against the Texans, he made two outstanding plays on almost consecutive plays in the first half. The first play was a running play to the left side of the offense. There was a hole between the LT and LG which he filled beautifully, beat the RB Foster to the spot, hit him cleanly and made a punishing tackle behind the line for a 3 yard loss. About 2 or 3 plays later, the Texans sent one of their talented, pass catching TEs down the middle on a seam route. Goff stayed with him step for step, turned his head around like a CB to locate the ball, timed his jump perfectly and knocked the ball away beautifully with his right hand. It was an athletic play in his 5th game starting that Antonino Pierce could not make in his entire 5 years with the Giants.  The LBs were thought to be a big weakness coming into the season, but I have hopes that Goff will be a pro bowl LB someday. He has strength, speed, athleticism and a very high IQ, which seems to be translating into a high football IQ.

4. Fewell seems to be a doing a really good job and this was a real unknown coming into the season as well. It is true that his game plan against the Colts was flawed, but since then he has been terrific. He has been creative with his personnel packages, keeping everyone happy and getting all the talented players enough PT. A few examples of his creativity: because the Giants S are so good (see point 1 above), and especially because they are so good in run support, Fewell is often playing 3 S and only 2 LBs. This keeps the best players on the field more of the time and minimizes the loss of Bulluck to injuy. The read-and-react technique that Fewell installed suits the huge, talented DTs very well and the Giants have been the stingiest team to run against. Fewell sees also that the Giants have great depth at DL, so he often plays 5 DL-men and uses one of them as a kind of rover who will slide to different spots on the line and rush the passer from different angles or drop into pass coverage like a LB. (JPP got an interception with this alignment against the Bears, which was called back because of Goff roughing the passer penalty). With athletic DEs like Tuck, Osi and rookie JPP, this is a well suited scheme for the Giants. I love that he is using JPP and he is starting to contribute. By the second half of the year he will be a major contributor to the defense; he already is on ST.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Giants: Da Bears II

The most disturbing early season trend for the Giants offense, aside from David Diehl playing the part of a doorman showing the way for opposing DEs in to see the QB (right this way, sir), is the turnovers that the offense is giving up. Giants offense has turned the ball over 3 or more times in each of the 4 games so far this year. There are a variety of reasons for it: (1) drops and deflections off the hands of WRs going for INTs; (2) OL getting beaten badly leading to blind side hits on Eli resulting in a fumble; (3) poor ball security by RBs especially when running in the open field. There was also a bad exchange between Eli and Jacobs last week probably caused by sharp and quick penetration by the DE which made Jacobs veer to change direction before he had secured the handoff. I only saw this happen once, so I am not going to stress out about this one. But the other reasons given are important; they seem to be fixable problems, but they are important nonetheless. Simply stated, the turnovers just have to stop. Bradshaw is a fumbling machine and is very loose with the ball when he gets moving in the open. Last two weeks he fumbled inside the 5 yard line and both fumbles were crucial. During the Titans game, the Giant were down only 19-10 when he lost the ball and against the Bears they were leading only 10-3. The fumble against the Titans may actually have cost the Giants the game and against the Bears, it could have cost the game. When Bradshaw gets into the open field, he tries to run faster and he is looser with the ball, does not hold it high and tight because it takes away a little foot speed. I understand his desire and the "need for speed", but fumbling the ball two games in a row inside the 5 yard line is a killer.

Speaking of the Titans - the Broncos complained bitterly this week that they were a dirty team with late hits, cheap shots and nasty stuff after the whistle that doesn't always get flagged. This kind of behavior lured the Giants into all those personal fouls last week. It is inexcusable that the Giants fell into their trap, but at least we can see that the Titans have a history and reputation for doing this stuff and the Giants were not crazy.

Overall the Giants should run outside a little more often. It seems most of the runs are between the tackles or just outside of the T. Defenses move to cut this off and even though Bradshaw has had some success with his cutback runs against these defenses, adding some outside stuff to the game plan would help. Using the quick pitch to the outside might be very effective, especially with the Giants fairly athletic Gs who can get out in front of that quickly. It also might force the defense to spread out more, making the inside stuff work better. With Pascoe in as the move TE or FB and the added quickness he has over Hedgecock, running outside could be very effective.

Eli looked a little jumpy Sunday night against the Bears. He still made some great throws, but didn't seem as sharp as he was earlier this year. On the 25 yard pass to Beckum, I thought he waited a little too long to get rid of the ball. I saw Beckum open from my seat and was yelling for Eli to throw there and pointing to him. Obviously, Eli heard me and delivered the ball. But if he had seen him earlier and delivered the ball 1 second faster, it would have been less congested on the receiving end. It turns out it was a perfect pass and it didn't matter, but if it had been off target by a foot, one of the two Bears defenders around Beckum might have gotten in there to knock it away.

Where's Barden? He can't even get on the field. Reese did a great job drafting in 2007, but since then has Sintim, Barden and a few others to answer for. It is important that the Giants get Barden, Cruz or some other WRs on the field a little bit and get them primed for action in case of injury. When Plaxico went down in 2008, Giants were stuck and we don't want that to happen again in case one of the WRs gets hurt.

OL is not playing as badly as it seems, but Diehl is killing the Giants. He gets another big test this week facing Mario Williams at DE. Williams is great, but the matchup might be a little better this week than Peppers was last week. Diehl has most trouble with pure speed rushers and Williams is more of an all around DE who likes to bull rush also, and is not just an outside speed rusher. We'll see. If Diehl continues to struggle, I think the Giants should play Beatty when he comes back or even consider playing Andrews at T. Even if Diehl does OK and stabilizes the position, I would still like to see the Giants use a little bit of player rotation for the OL like they do for the DL. Get Beatty used to the position; see if he's good enough and give him some experience.

Speaking of Mario Williams - everyone was killing the Texans for drafting him instead of taking that "once-in-a-generation" RB, Reggie Bush. How's that draft choice looking now a few years later? Bush is dangerous, to be sure, but Williams is a franchise maker.

Giants could have 3 or 4 new OL-men next year. O'Hara is getting older and his injuries are increasing in frequency and severity; Diehl is getting on in years as is MacKenzie and the play for both seems to be declining. Seubert is tough but is also getting older and is not as quick as he once was. With a back like Bradshaw, you're looking for quickness from that G position, not just brute strength and toughness. If I am right and the Giants are going to have that makeover in the OL next year, it makes sense to give Beatty and Andrews some time this year so the team can evaluate them on real game experience and not training camp and preseason nonsense.

Koets is doing OK at center, but he's not O'Hara who, when healthy is one of the top 5 Cs in the league. He does get beat occasionally by quick DTs, but he's not a horror show. On the play when Ahmad Bradshaw got called for a chop block leading to a safety in game 3 against the Titans, Koets had gotten beaten on that play, reached out and grabbed the facemask of the DT he was supposed to block. It should have been a  penalty against him. Speaking of penalties - Giants WRs do a real good job blocking for the running game, but occasionally hold on those blocks - sometimes they get called for it and sometimes they don't. Coaches should work on that with them.

The ST had a decent week against the dangerous Bears return game. The FG operation has to improve and the Giants have to fix the punter's problems or find a new one, but at least the kickoff coverage was decent. We can't tell about the punts yet, because the punts were so poor against the Bears that there was no opportunity for the Bears to run them back. Giants had a veteran punter come in for a workout this week, so if Dodge doesn't get squared away, there are alternatives. I don't understand why the Giants have to use Dodge as a holder for FGs when he is not expert at that. Can't the backup QB Rosenfels or even Eli do this?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Giants: Da Bears review

Before we get too excited about the mashing of the Bears by the Giants defense, let's remember the main thing about all sports competitions: when you win it doesn't mean that your team is great, it just means that you're better than the other guys. The Bears OL is just awful. It's certainly encouraging that the Giants DL took advantage of it and absolutely pulverized their offense with an overpowering pass rush - but we have to remember that the Bears OL is awful. (I've said it a second time.) The fact that the Giants defense dominated does not necessarily mean that the defense is great and has finally turned the corner - it means that they beat up on a terrible Bears OL. (Third time.)  It's really worse than that really, because the Giants beat them conventionally, man-to-man, with very few blitzes, schemes or tricks in the line, revealing just how lame the Bears OL really is. (Get the picture yet? Bears OL stinks.) Furthermore, they beat them at every spot on the line, so there was not even anywhere for the Bears to cover up and help out. If one DL-man is creating havoc with your offense, like Peppers was doing to Diehl, you can figure out how to give him help. For the Giants, they occasionally lined up a TE on the left side, instead of on the right where it is more common to do so. They had a RB give a little help by chip blocking occasionally to help Diehl (or MacKenzie, when Peppers lined up on his side.) But there was no opportunity for Martz to do this, because virtually every OL-man on the Bears was getting beaten. Tuck and Osi each had 3 sacks, but Canty and Cofield were getting pressure up the middle also and each had a sack. Cutler did not have a chance and after about the 6th or 7th time he was hit he was starting to get a little nervous in the pocket, which is certainly understandable. It appeared to me that he was occasionally looking at the onrushing DL instead of down field at his pass receivers. The Giants DB-field played very well, making it harder for Cutler to get rid of the ball quickly and Fewell called a very good game also, mixing coverages well. Giants switched often from a straight zone (which they played infrequently) to man-to-man, to man-zone combinations (which they played most often). Cutler, who has a great arm but has not quite mastered the finer points of playing QB in the NFL was befuddled. (That's a nice way of saying he's a dope.) On Terrell Thomas' interception, Cutler hit him right between the numbers. Actually, Thomas was playing the outside zone and no Bears WR was running through his zone (bad route combination by Bears - you should always have a WR running through the zone you're trying to throw into, in order to clear out a defender and give the intended receiver only one man to beat instead of two). The Bears WR was running a shallow crossing route, and the Giants defender was trailing by a step on his back shoulder. Cutler was looking at this trailing Giants defender and did not even see Thomas who stepped right in and easily caught the ball.

Before we start crowing about how the Giants defense is back, how this looks just like 2007 when the defense got off to a bad start before they found themselves and the DC learned about the personnel - let's see the defense do it against a good offense. This Sunday should be a good test, with the talented Texans on the road. They have a very good QB, a great WR in Andre Johnson and are a very well coached team. I don't expect 10 sacks and dominance like we saw this past Sunday, but let's see if they play well.

A word about Martz and his offense: Martz is an absolutely awful coach. He has this reputation as a brilliant, creative coordinator, who is way ahead of all other OC's in the league. Nothing could be further from the truth. He has one strategy: have his QB throw deep down the field and use his RBs often coming out of the backfield in the passing game. Occasionally he throws in some trick plays, but always calls them at the wrong time. This strategy worked great when he was with the Rams and had one of the most talented offenses in the history of football - they were called the greatest show on turf. Remember that team? They had two great WRs in Isaac Bruce and Tory Holt; an excellent passer in Kurt Warner; a great OL led by the best LT of his generation in Orlando Pace and perhaps the best all-around RB in the history of the game in Marshall Faulk. For good measure, his offense played in a dome so he never had to worry about weather and it was playing on turf which accentuated the tremendous team speed that they had. I could have coached that team and scored 4 TDs per game with them. Just to prove my point - you recall that when a tough defense got to them, smacked them in the mouth and got a little pass rush, their efficiency went way down, because they were completely one-dimensional. You may also recall that when Warner played for the Giants, his main problem was holding the ball too long, no doubt a holdover of the habits he developed with Martz, when the only thing they did was take 7 step drops and throw deep to one of those gifted receivers. You will observe that Martz is trying to do the same thing with the Bears. Cutler was taking 7 step drops all night long, not the smartest thing to do when your OL is getting blown up by a pass rush. You will also note that Forte, their RB is having a great year so far catching the ball out of the backfield, a la Faulk. Giants closed that up real well because they were ready for it and because Boley had a very good game in coverage even though it did not show up on any stats sheets anywhere. Also, with the RB always releasing from the backfield and running pass routes, you have less protection for your QB in case a pass rusher comes free. I've said enough and I think you get my point. Martz did nothing to help his QB Sunday night by adjusting the pass routes, the play calling or the protection schemes. He is a waaaaay overrated coach with a reputation built on one of the most talented offenses ever assembled that anyone could have coached.

Back to the Giants defense: I am very encouraged by how well Goff is playing. He is very quick and he is strong enough to stand up to the running game. He is very smart and he is developing a real good instinctive football IQ, because he always seems to be in the right place at the right time.

Terrell Thomas might be the Giants best cover CB, which is a good thing because Webster is very good also. Aaron Ross had his best game of the year and we can be hopeful that he is getting his timing back. I love that Fewell continues to use the 3 S in an attempt to get the best DBs on the field. Deon Grant is a very good player and the S unit on the Giants have made twice as many plays in the first 4 games of the season than the S group did all last year.

The DTs, especially Canty are playing very well. As mentioned above, the Bears have a poor OL so we can't use that game as the ultimate barometer, but overall Canty is playing very well. He is in great shape; he is a mountain of a man and hard to move out of the middle, but he is also very quick and uses that quickness both for a good pass rush as well as to move down the line when the running play is away from him. He was great against the Bears and also played well the week before against the Titans. There was a Linval Jospeh sighting this week as the 2nd round draft pick finally dressed for a game. He actually made one really good play coming down the line to stop a screen play. This was encouraging because it required reading the offensive play rather than just pushing against the man in front of you; perhaps he is starting to "get" the defense and we could see more of him. Even if Kiwanuka dresses this week, I would rather see the coaches sit Dave "Rudy" Tollefson and dress Joseph. They have enough DEs (4) with Osi, Tuck, JP-P and Kiwanuka. Even if Kiwanuka does not recover in time for this week's game, they can dress Joseph and use Canty as a 4th DE if they need to. (I'm still annoyed that they kept Tollefson and cut Alford.)

Two key defensive plays by the Giants early in the game: Bears ran a little hitch route to Hester and he was one-on-one with Webster in the open field. If he gets by Webster there, he makes 40-50 yards and maybe goes all the way. Instead, Webster tackled him for a short gain and the defensive momentum started to pick up. (Thanks to my friend Ray for pointing out this early important play.) Another key defensive play was the deflection by Webster of the long sideline pass intended for Hester. Actually,  Hester had him beat by a yard or two but Webster stuck up his hand at the last moment and deflected the ball. I think a better pass by Cutler might have gotten in there. Cutler threw the ball too flat. If he had thrown it higher and more out in front of Hester, allowing him to run under it more, it might have been complete.

The Giants running game got going a little better when Hedgecock went out and Pascoe had to take his snaps as FB. This could be a better combination when Bradshaw is running the ball, because AB needs quickness in his blockers, not power. Pascoe could be a better fit and will also be more of a threat if he catches a pass, which the FB occasionally does.

Contrasted to Martz game plan, Gilbride had Eli throw deep only once or twice. He was clearly afraid of Peppers eating up the Giants OL (rightfully so) and wanted to stay away from a big Bears pass rush. Eli threw deep on the first play of the game and could not deliver the ball deep enough to Smith because Peppers, in fact, smashed him as he was throwing the ball. He also threw a deep ball to Manningham early in the 2nd half. Manningham broke his stride, stopped and tried to jump for the ball which fell incomplete. Manningham made a mistake - he should have kept running and tried to run under the ball; he might have caught it. He knows how to do this and usually he does (he did it perfectly on the play the week before when Bradshaw got called for the chop block.) The play ended in a safety, but Eli hit Manningham for about 50 yards down the sideline.

More stuff on the game later this week.