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.

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