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.