Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Giants: Jaguars game review I

There's quite a bit to take out of this game both from the positive as well as the negative side. It's easy simply to say that the Giants were flat defensively in the first half and allowed the Jaguars to push them around and run on them. If you just  look at the plays and their results in that first half, this appeared to be true. Especially if you consider what the papers have been writing about all week - Tuck's fiery half time speech that awoke the slumbering defense from its emotionless state. If they needed a half time speech to spark them, they must have been flat before then. However, there's more to it than that; there's also some game planning, technique and adjustments involved that made them ineffective in the first half and much better later on. This is the first game the entire year that I saw the Giants get pushed around on the ground and particularly the DTs, who have been so good this year, were moved and punished by the opposing OL. Most of the successful Jaguar runs started inside, between the G and C or between the G and T, which means they controlled the interior of the DL in that first half. The Giants, inexplicably, came out with a frequent 3-safety look, played a lot of zone in the first half and did not drop an extra safety in the box to handle the running game. Furthermore, for some reason, the DEs were rushing up field often in passing plays and even on running plays. It looked like they expected Jaguars to pass more than they actually did and that they expected them to run outside, so they wanted to control the perimeter with DEs coming up field. Jaguars instead often got effective double team blocks on the DTs, and ran underneath the rushing DEs. When the DEs stayed home, they did a good job securing the edge and not letting runs get outside of them, particularly Osi, who has had a good year rushing the passer and has been defending the run as well. In the 2nd half, the DEs stayed in their lane more, the Giants did more twists in the line, stayed with 3-safeties, but moved the S in the box to combat the interior running. By doing this they also managed to keep Garrard in the pocket and prevented him from running. You recall that the sacks in the last Jaguar series that ended in the forced fumble came from blitzes with the DB coming inside the DE, not a wide blitz on the outside. These worked very well. Overall there was a lot more pressure on the passer in the 2nd half and the defensive adjustments really worked. I don't know if we should applaud Fewell for making the adjustments that worked or castigate him for coming in with a flawed game plan. Maybe both?!? Jaguars have one excellent play maker in Jones-Drew and the Giants defense should have looked to stop him rather than expect a passing attack from the Jaguars. When they did pass in the first half, Jaguars used a lot of 3 step drops and max protect to blunt the Giants pass rush, a page out of the Cowboys playbook of a few weeks ago. In the second half, with more blitzes and more line twists and stunts, the Giants got to Garrard and put a lot of pressure on him. If you're looking for one statistic that defines the effectiveness of the passing game, it is yards-per-pass-attempt. It takes into account completion percentage and whether the QB is dumping off little short high percentages passes to the RBs or is throwing the ball down the field. A very good number is in the 8 yards per pass attempt range. Garrard ended the day at about 4.6 yards per pass attempt, which is a really feeble number. Actually, the 4.6 yards per pass attempt does not account for the sacks, which makes the numbers even more meager. It kind of makes you wonder why the Jaguars even attempted a pass Sunday, when they were averaging 6.1 yards per rush attempt, better than their passing numbers. More than that, they were successful with short, safe passes in the first half mixed in with the running game and then seemed to change their strategy in the 2nd half. They passed and got intercepted on their first play of the second half. Then, on their second possession, they got one first down, and then proceeded to hoist up two long balls which had absolutely no chance of being completed. That series seemed to change the momentum of the game. If was the first punt of the game by the Jaguars and gave the Giants defense some added juice. Poor tactics by Del Rio and Jags, if you ask me.

Giants offense was pretty good in the first half, moving the ball effectively on 2 of their 3 drives. The problem, however, was that they got stopped for FGs instead of going in for TDs. Giants have been effective in the red zone this year, so I put this failure on the absence of the top offensive players rather than any failure in execution or play calling. Notice that the two second half TDs came on big plays from outside of the red zone, which may be the case for the Giants offense (easier to score from outside the 20 than inside it) until Nicks and Smith get back. I think Boss is an outstanding pass receiving threat and the Giants should take advantage of him more, especially with Nicks/Smith out. His TD grab was a simple route and easy catch, but required an excellent read and a good move on the safety to give him the TD run. The play that showed his pass receiving skills off more was a gorgeous throw and catch right at the end of the 3rd quarter. Giants were pinned deep on their own 12 still behind 17-9. Boss ran an out pattern and was blanketed by a S with LB in front of him. Eli made a gorgeous throw right over the LB leading Boss perfectly. He caught the ball and secured it with the S wrapping him up and knocking him to the ground immediately. Beautiful throw and catch. Boss made another catch for 25 yards on that drive and the Giants scored quickly, going 88 yards on only 5 plays.Boss beat a safety on the first pass and a LB on the second. He really can create match up problems for a  defense and the Giants should exploit it more.

Speaking of that drive, it is worthwhile to break down the TD pass to Manningham that ended the drive and understand how and why it worked. Giants had two TEs in the game, with Boss lined up tight on the right side and Derek Hagan lined up wide to his right. On the left, Manningham was lined up wide and Beckum was lined up in the slot. The Jaguars were playing a zone with 2 safeties deep and because the Giants had two TEs in the game, they were not in nickel, keeping 3 LBs in the game. On the right side of the offense, Hagan ran a straight go route occupying the DB and S on his half of the field. Boss stayed in to block and increase the pass protection, so in effect there were three Jaguar defenders: DB, LB and S on the right side of the offense, defending only one player, Hagan, running deep. On the play side of the field, Manningham ran a deep sideline route and Beckum, who was covered by a LB ran a deep post pattern. Eli took the snap and faked a hand-off to Jacobs. Beckum was covered by LB who he easily outran, especially with the play fake to Jacobs that froze the LB for an instant. The LB had deep safety help and this S had to decide whether to give deep help to Beckum or Manningham. After the fake hand-off, Jacobs continued out into the pass pattern on the left side of the offense. This drew the attention of the CB who had zone responsibility to stay with Manningham on the sideline. The CB slowed slightly when Eli faked the hand-off to Jacobs and bit hard when Jacobs flashed in front of him in the pass pattern. This left Beckum and Manningham streaming down the field; putting pressure on the S. Beckum was on a post towards the middle of the field and Manningham was deep down the sideline, both had easily beaten their underneath coverage and both were wide open with only the deep S to cover both of them. Eli chose to throw to Manningham who easily sidestepped the S and went in for TD. It was beautiful play design, and perfect execution.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Giants: Look ahead to Jaguars

Giants announced today that Jacobs will take over as starter for the fumble-prone Ahmad Bradshaw. This is the right decision and if you've been following this blog, you saw that I said they should make this move. (I guess Coughlin and Gilbride follow my blog also.) DJ Ware should get some carries in his place, though Bradshaw will not be permanently banished and will still play. Bradshaw, who is a good receiver out of the backfield and occasionally lines up as a WR could help the injury depleted passing game by lining up wide occasionally. He is not blinding fast, but he has the quickness to be a good slot receiver.

The truth is that Coughlin is so obsessed about ball security and turnovers that he would consider changing the QB also, if he had an alternative that was as good. Coughlin loves Eli and it would be a real shock to the team and to the locker room to change QBs, so he won't do that, but I am sure he is unhappy with all the INTs. This is a shot across the bow to the entire team about ball security.

Justin Tuck has a sore thigh and was added to the injury report, but interestingly, Shawn Andrews is not on the injury report. He played well against the Eagles, did not let Cole lay a hand on Eli, switched capably on some of the Eagles blitzes and did alright against the run. The problem with the OL and the running game Sunday night was more Boothe and the TEs than it was Andrews. It will be really interesting to see what the Giants do when Diehl and O'Hara come back. O'Hara should reclaim his C position; he is one of the best C's in football. Seubert had been playing very well at LG, so if he reclaims that slot, should Diehl displace Andrews at LT? Unless you want to play Diehl at LG in place of Seubert, the best OL alignment might have Andrews at LT and Diehl on the bench.

I can not understand why the Giants are 7 1/2 point favorites over the Jaguars. The offense is beat up and is turning the ball over at a rate of 3 per game. They scored only 17 points against a so-so Eagles defense and got further hurt when they lost the best WR on the team. The line opened up at 9 and has slipped down to 7 1/2, so I guess the wagering public is putting their money on Jacksonville. 

Michael Clayton is signed to play WR, but after Nicks and Smith come back, I would like to see the Giants keep him and experiment with him at TE. He probably would not be a great blocker in the running game, but he would create mismatch problems for the opposing defense. It takes a while for the slot receiver to fit into the offense and figure out where to go. This adds to my idea above of using Bradshaw occasionally in the slot and feeding Clayton a diet of routes he is used to, from the outside WR position.This gives him the best chance at being productive right away.

With Jacobs starting at RB, look for the Giants to try to go to a power running game to protect their weak WR group. (This was suggested by my friend Ray in an email and I think he may be right.) Because the TEs were weak in blocking last week, I look for them to use a heavy dose of Beatty as an eligible receiver. Let's hope he remembers to report as eligible this week. He went to UCONN, for goodness sake, he should be able to remember that!

Even with Nicks and Smith out, Giants can not abandon the passing game. In fact, they should probably be more aggressive in the early downs to throw when the Jaguars defense is expecting a run.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Giants: Injury situation

David Diehl has said that he is getting better and he may try to play this week against the Jaguars.

Shaun O'Hara may not be far away from returning to action either

Giants signed WR Michael Clayton, formerly of the Bucs and recently playing in some independent league called the UFL. I don't know why he dropped out of the NFL, but at least he has some talent. My worry is that the Giants offense is so hard to learn that it may be a while before he is able to play. The game today has so many sight adjustments, hot reads and combination routes that you really have to know what you're doing before you can play. It's what kept Manningham off the field his first year and hurt Sinorice Moss's development. I remember Clayton as having good speed and real good size. I hope they can force feed him at least a portion of the offense so he can have some benefit to the team Sunday.

Looking ahead to the rest of the season: everyone said that this season bears some resemblance to 2007 a little bit. Like then, Giants had a new defensive coordinator and it took a little while for the defense to grasp his system. Giants got off to a good start and then hit some rough patches before coming together. Specifically, in 2007 they had a horrible game against the Vikings in Giants Stadium where Eli threw 4 picks, 2 of which were returned for TDs. Eli had another poor game this past Sunday, throwing 3 INTs and getting bailed out on the PI on Manningham that was a ball that was thrown up for grabs and could have easily been intercepted. Let's see if Eli can come back again and pull the team with him.

Giants: Eagles game review II

As distasteful as it was, I watched the game again, recorded on my DVR, in order to review what really happened and where the Giants lost the game. Watching the game live I had the feeling that the Eagles completely dominated, were much more talented than the Giants on both sides of the ball and that the Giants were lucky to even be in the game. I got a much different impression when I was watching the game a little dispassionately, for some analysis and not rooting hard while watching it live. The truth is that the Giants defense played really well. They had a very good game plan and executed it very well. They did make a few mistakes and did have the big blown assignment on the 50 yard TD run that turned out to be the winning TD, but they really contained the Eagles offense very well. The Giants turned the ball over several times leading directly to 9 Eagles points. They got a first quarter TD and the 50 yard run after the Giants stopped the Eagles on the play before, but gave it back because of the off side penalty on JPP.

The strategy that Fewell used was not dissimilar to what we discussed in the pregame posts. Use the 3 S / 2 LB formation almost as the base defense to combat the Eagles speed. Keep DBs back on passing downs, playing more zone than usual and keeping the dangerous WRs in front of them. Don't be afraid to blitz Vick, but when you do, bring a S or CB instead of LB who will be quicker and therefore have a better chance of containing him. The idea was that it would be OK to give up some yardage on the underneath passes, but take away the long balls that Vick throws well. Rely on the athleticism of the DL to combat Vick's running and do not use a spy  to track him down. All that worked very well, we saw Rolle blitzing often from the right side of the defense, forcing Vick to run to his right where he could not throw the ball on the run - that was a very smart wrinkle by Fewell. Eagles got one TD early and after that only four FGs, three of them gifts after Giants turnovers, until that last run. That sequence was an absolute heart breaker. Eagles had 3rd and 6 with 4 minutes left and Vick got chased and forced into an incomplete pass but JPP was off side on the play. They reran the play and the Giants stopped them again on 3rd and 1 but then gave up the long 50 yard TD run when Reid went for it on 4th down. That is two weeks in a row where a minor, inconsequential penalty at the line of scrimmage cost the Giants a TD two plays later. Last week the false start by Beatty negated Jacobs rushing TD and two plays later the pick 6 cost the Giants the game. This week the off side by JPP took a 4th and 6 and gave the Eagles a 3rd and 1 which they hit for the long play.

The other disheartening part of that play was how close the Giants came to stopping it for a loss. Osi saw the pitch and broke to the ball, missed tipping it by about an inch. If he knocks it down, the Giants win the game.

Boley had a poor game missing contain on a few outside runs, though he did get a few good blitzes and hits on the QB. Rolle played very well in run support and disrupted Vick's passing game with his blitzes. Tuck was outstanding. He had a few sacks, the forced fumble which led to the TD that put the Giants ahead early in the 4th quarter and had a few other excellent plays disrupting the Eagles offense.

Overall, while the defense played really well, on offense, the Giants made a ton of mistakes. I am not limiting myself to the turnovers, there were also lots of mental errors, physical mistakes and a strategic issue which the Giants have to address. The WRs made a few plays but had several mental mistakes. On the Giants first drive of the game, Eli hit Nicks on 3rd and 10 for about 35 yards but Nicks did not keep his feet in bounds. On the second drive of the game, Eli hit Manningham for 6 yards on 3rd and 8 when Manningham had at least a 5 yard additional cushion to run the route deeper and get the first down. Later in the game, Eli threw a crossing route to Nicks about 1/2 foot high and too far out in front of him, but the defender had fallen down and Nicks could have caught the ball after which he would have run for 40 yards. Manningham and Boss missed blocks on a WR bubble screen to Calhoun that was set up perfectly and would have gone for a big gain.

Physically, the Giants did get beat up in two areas: the first was the TE blocking for the running game, which was really poor and it affected the running game more than the OL. Boss has been getting better as a blocker but he had a real bad game Sunday night and Beckum was invisible. I am not going to blame Beckum because he is small for a TE, but if there was ever a time for him to step up and at least be a down field threat, which is why he was brought here, now is the time. Pascoe was defeated on several blocks also but did have some plays where he stuck his man and opened some space for the few effective runs that the Giants had. Strategically, it is hard to be a power running team when your TEs are average blockers and your RB has a shifty cut back style. I don't understand why Gilbride only runs the ball inside. Think about it - the only time the Giants run wide is when they are in 3rd and 2 or 3 and they throw the little pitch to Bradshaw which they think will surprise the defense. Giants did not run outside once against the Eagles, it was all behind the T and off the C and G. I don't get why Gilbride does that: with a shifty, speedy back like Bradshaw; you have to run outside occasionally. The strength of the Giants OL, I think is the athleticism at the G position. When you run inside only, you minimize their ability to pull and get out in front of an occasional outside run. I understand that things may be different now with the beat up OL, but being predictable with the running plays is not good either. 

As to predictability of the running game: the Eagles flowed to the ball so smoothly, it was almost as if they were in the huddle and knew the play call. On one play, as Eli was handing the ball to Jacobs, the Eagles already had both S running up to the line of scrimmage and were in the box. The play had no chance.

Note to Gilbride for Eagles rematch: a trick play where the RB gets the ball and pitches back to the QB for a down field pass will be wiiiiiide open based on the way the Eagles guess and attack the line of scrimmage on running plays.

The second area where the offense was defeated was at the LG and C position. Boothe was OK in pass blocking but was not quick enough to get out and block in running plays. Seubert was not awful and I will give him a pass for playing out of position, but there were several running plays going to the right side which were blocked fairly well by the RT and RG which did not work because Boothe and Seubert did not effectively seal the back side of the Eagles defense and LBs flowed over to stop the play.
Giants have a real challenge with how to remake the offense in the next few games with Manningham as the only WR who was on the opening day roster able to suit up this Sunday. Your first instinct is to go to the power running game, use double TE sets and maybe Giants get lucky and Hedgecock comes back to help with that. But with the weak blocking performance of the TEs last week and the injured OL, it's a lot to ask. I would throw the ball early in the downs because the Jaguars defense will surely be up at the line to stop the run. When the Giants are in 3rd and long, they should be conservative, go to screens and draws and if they have to kick it away and rely on their defense, so be it.

 I would also try to use the RBs in the passing game and load up with an extra OL-man for extra pass protection so the RBs can release out of the backfield with more confidence. The Giants have been talking all season about team first and accountability. If there is real accountability, the Giants should sit Bradshaw and play Ware.

This punter is making me (and everyone else) crazy. He shanked a 25 yard punt this week and also nailed a few long ones. He dropped one snap and, luckily nobody was rushing him. He picked it up and hit his longest punt of the game, which of course shows that this is all mental with him. When he has too much tome to think, he misses them. When he picks it up and has to just "grip it and rip it" he hits a 65 yarder. On average, his distance was pretty good, but average does not indicate consistency. One 65 yarder and a 25 yarder comes out to an average distance of 45. But the 25 yard punt puts your defense in the whole, while the 65 yard punt went into the end zone, came out to the 20 and did not give the team a great field position advantage. I understand why the Giants are smitten with Dodge; he has a huge leg. But it is 10 games into the season and he has not settled down yet. Time for some action.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Giants: Eagles game review I

I am sure this will be the first of several reviews of the Eagles game that I post, which is why I numbered this post even before I mapped out whether there will be a sequel. (It was Godfather, then Godfather 2; Superman, then Superman II... get it ... the first movies in the sequence should have been named... oh forget it.)

Anyway - I am positively ill about this game, or really, to be more accurate, about these last two games, against the Cowboys and the Eagles. They are a model of who the Giants are as a team, what the coaches and players are like and why I fear and now think that the Giants will have an unhappy ending to this season. The summary is that the Giants show lots of talent and even show lots of grit, never giving up on a game, always fighting through extremely difficult circumstances, but in the end, being undone by turnovers and mistakes. The turnovers are an absolute killer. The Giants have 30 turnovers this year, for a ridiculous average of three per game. In a way, it is remarkable that the Giants actually have a winning record with all these turnovers. They are at or near the very bottom of the league in total turnovers and poor turnover differential. By contrast in the 1990 season the Giants had 15 turnovers for the entire season and the 2008 Giants had only 13. That's 3 or 4 weeks' worth of turnovers for this year's team.  You simply can't play this way and when it has lasted this long into the season, you have to presume the following:
1- it is more than just a momentary run of bad luck - when it has lasted 10 games, you have to say that it is deeply embedded into the character , the very DNA of the team. It is not enough for the coaches to say "we coach them not to turn the ball over, but they do it anyway". That means one of two things: either the coaches don't know how to coach them not to turn it over or the players are not listening to the coaching. Either way, the coaches are not getting through to the team and there is a problem with the coaching.
2-when it has gone on through 10 of the 16 games of the season, you also have to presume that it just isn't going to change. If you follow this blog, you all know that I think Eli is one of the elite QBs in the league. Well, I have to admit that he sure isn't playing like it this year. He has the talent of an elite QB - strong, accurate arm, great timing, ability to read the defenses, ability to make every throw a great QB needs to make. But 15 INTs and all those fumbles??? That is just unacceptable. When he fell forward instead of sliding and fumbled away the last chance the Giants had of winning, making the same mistake he made last year, it showed that he is just not playing well. In a way it was a microcosm of the season - he made a valiant attempt, showed running ability, made the first down but then gave it away. He has a lot of TDs and a lot of INTs - that's Brett Favre territory and is not the recipe or makeup of an elite QB. We've all analyzed that many of his INTs are the fault of the WRs, because of all the tipped balls. But when you have 15 INTs, regardless of whose fault some of them are - it's on the QB.

We said all along, when they were on their 5 game winning streak that the turnovers have to stop otherwise it would cost the team some games when they play against the better teams. Well, it just cost two games. Three, actually, if you include the Titans game which was also a gift to the Titans because of all the turnovers. You don't win games because of talent on the field. The talent on the field just gives you a chance to win - you win when the talent is productive and plays well. Turning the ball over undermines the yards and productivity that they pile up. 

I was going to recommend that it's time for the Giants to sit Ahmad Bradshaw down. They just can't afford to play him anymore - he may be more talented than Jacobs and DJ Ware, but not so much better or so much more productive that it makes up for all the turnovers and missed blocks. Unfortunately, the news this evening is that Nicks had some kind of serious leg condition and required a surgical procedure to his leg which will cause him to miss at least three games. That may have saved Bradshaw's starting job, because sitting him under these circumstances may not be possible. Even though he makes mistakes, he is one of the play makers on offense and the Giants probably can't afford to lose him now in addition to Nicks. In fact, they probably have to work him more into the passing offense to compensate for the loss of Nicks.

These injuries are crazy, really. Every team has injuries, but what really kills a team is when all the injuries are concentrated in one unit and the team does not have a chance to compensate for it. You can stock good back up players one layer deep and demand that one substitute player step up, but not 3 or 4 in the same unit. From the opening day roster, the Giants have now lost: Nicks, Smith, Barden and Cruz. When you add in the fact that they also lost Hixon and Moss to injury, you're talking about 6 quality WRs that are not available to the team. They already re-signed Derek Hagan, but he won't exactly replace Jerry Rice on NFL Networks top 100 players list, if you get my drift. Maybe David Tyree is still available. Forget that - Hagan took his number.

I am really sorry I vented and ranted about the Giants in this post without really talking about the Eagles game at all. That will have to wait until tomorrow.

Just one note about the game itself - even though this game was really close and a play here or there could have easily given the game to the Giants, from the big picture, the Eagles outplayed and outgained the Giants. Giants were kept in the game by their defense, holding the Eagles to 9 points on four first half drives when they could have had 28. One egregious drop of a sure TD pass by Avanti was pure fortune for the Giants and not the residue of any brilliant design. Even though the Giants had a lead in the 4th qtr and were one off-sides penalty away from actually winning the game, they still lost. More tomorrow.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Giants: Gameday Eagles

Take a look at the comments and really good analysis that Doron submitted on the post titled "Eagles game preview". He made some really good points.

If you follow this blog, you know that I am a big believer in the importance of match ups in football games, or any athletic competition for that matter. In that context, while it is definitely true that Vick is playing very well, the game he had against the Redskins last week made him look positively unstoppable in part because of the match up against the Redskins defense.

First, the Redskins have a big, slow relatively nonathletic DL. They switched to a 3-4 defense this year and moved Brian Orakpo, last year's very good rookie form his position of DE with hand on the ground to stand up OLB in this 3-4. He still rushes the passer often, but is learning the nuances of the new defense. They have a well chronicled disagreement with Haynesworth who does not want to play NT in the 3-4, because he claims he is not good at it. He's right, he's not. He's huge and fairly quick for a guy 365, but he's just not good, nimble and quick enough to get after a mobile QB. The other DL-men the Redskins have are fairly ordinary players and their LBs are getting a little long in the tooth (aside from Orakpo) and are not that quick. If you watched the Monday night game, you saw Haynesworth fall on the floor and stay there rather than chase after Vick on one play. You need quickness to have a chance against Vick and Redskins don't have it in their defensive front.

Second, the Redskins DB-field used to be very deep at CB, but now is not as good as it was. Carlos Rogers and DeAngelo Hall are both good CBs, with Hall much better than Rogers. They have one very fast S in LaRon Landry, but they have no talent or depth beyond those 3 players. When the Redskins made the very questionable defensive decision of moving Landry up to the line of scrimmage to act as a spy to take away Vick's running game, they exposed their back end, with no deep S help. As we all saw, that was a bad decision.

By contrast to the two points above, the Giants have a very athletic DL and have to rely on them to do a better job than the overmatched Redskins DL did. Giants need a big game from their athletic DL and have to try to do their best at pressuring Vick without exposing their defense to big plays. I hope Fewell learns from the lesson of what the Redskins tried with Landry and does not do the same thing. I would rather give up 80 yards rushing to Vick than give up 330 yards passing and lots of deep balls all over the yard. 

With all the focus on Vick and how the Giants defense is going to stop them, we have not looked at the Eagles defense and what the Giants should do against them. A lot depends on who is healthy in the OL and what the OL does, but I would use Jacobs more today that usual, particularly running to the right, behind the healthy right side of the OL. try to punish the light-ish Eagles defense. However, if the the OL is really banged up, they need to avoid obvious passing downs and should think about passing early in the down sequence, to avoid Eagles blitzes on 3rd and long. Eagles defense is not great, Giants should be aggressive early in the game and give them a good dose of Jacobs later in the game.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Giants: Eagles and random thoughts

Eagles are fast at every position on offense including QB. If there is one DL that has the athleticism and speed to at least challenge Vick, if not completely stop him, it is the Giants DL. (You can't stop him, you can only hope to contain him.)

Perry Fewell has gotten a lot of credit early in the year for the resurgence of the Giants defense. I am glad to give him credit, but two of the three Giants losses are directly attributable to Fewell getting out-coached by the opposing team's OC. It is one thing for the opposing offense to come in with a plan that you didn't expect or plan for, but you have to realize what's going on and make adjustments on the fly to address the unexpected. Against Indianapolis, Fewell expected the Colts to pass-pass-pass and sent in a 3 S, 2 LB alignment with only 6 players near the line of scrimmage to stop the run. Peyton saw the "soft box",  took what the Giants defense was giving him and he toasted them. It took Fewell until late in the 3rd qtr to change things up, by which time it was way too late.

Against the Cowboys, Kitna was max protected often and the Giants did not go to any pressure packages or different coverages on the back end to challenge them. The one time that the Giants did blitz a LB, the Cowboys read it perfectly, called a screen pass right behind it, which went for 71 yards and a TD. When the opponents hit you for a big play or two, you give them credit or write it off to a blown coverage. When they run 7 plays of more than 24 yards, then they are consistently out-scheming you and it is more about coaches than it is about players.

I thought punter Matt Dodge had things straightened out but he reverted to form last week. When he was punting from deep in his own territory he twice shanked a 30 yard punt. When he was out near midfield, he twice nailed a 55+ yard punt into the end zone, so the net on the punt was 20 yards less. With the Eagles dangerous team speed, Giants cannot afford to give up field position. Giants need a good day out of the punter as well as out of Tynes and the kick coverage teams.

Giants have to be physical with the Eagles. Eagles are faster, Giants are bigger. The DL needs to smack Vick around a little bit and be rugged and tough with him. I am not saying that they should be dirty, but they have to rediscover the swagger and be physical with him.

Statistics are funny - Vick has been sacked 15 times this year and Eli only 12 times, while Eli has played all 9 games to 6 by Vick. I guess this means Eli is more elusive in the pocket than Vick is.

What are we seeing with Vick? Is he on a short run of excellence and he will revert to form? Or are we seeing the emergence of one of the best pure athletes in the NFL finally marshal and control his incredible physical talents and channeling them towards being one of the great QBs in the league. I suspect he is on the rise, because Reid was very anxious to stick with him and announce that he would be the starter after he saw him perform in just a few games. Reid is a great offensive coach and recognizes what he has.

I guess Reid knew what he was doing when he traded McNabb. What are the Redskins thinking by giving McNabb that extension? Unless they outright cut him at the end of the ear, he is going to get lots of guaranteed money from the Redskins. McNabb looks terrible and the Redskins are another 2 years away of rebuilding their roster before they are any good. That's not a team that you want an aging QB for. It was a dumb move to trade for him and it is a dumber move to give him a contract extension with lots of guaranteed money.

Everyone is making a fuss over the Jets being lucky during their winning streak and saying that they are not really such a good team. I disagree - just win baby - that's all it's about. In 1986 when the Giants won their first Superbowl, they had a lot of close games that were decided by a break or two, by a lucky play here or there, but nobody on the Giants was apologizing for winning those games. Anybody remember the game up in Minnesota that year? I think it was week 10 or 11 in the season; Giants were down 20-19, a little over 1 minute left, and the Giants had a 4th and 17 at around midfield. Simms hit Bobby Johnson for a 20 yard gain down to the Vikings 30 yard line, right on the sidelines so Johnson could go out of bounds and stop the clock. Giants moved it a little closer and Raul Allegre kicked a winning FG as time expired. Giants won a few more close games that year where they were outplayed but survived. It's just about winning the games, not style points.

A few weeks ago when the Giants beat the Cowboys I made a fuss on this blog, posting  that the Cowboys were not really a talented team, as everyone had judged. I saw them with major holes in the OL and in the DB-field. The fact that they covered up the holes and came up with a game plan to beat the Giants does not change my assessment. Their DB-field is awful and the Giants had no trouble at all moving the ball through the air against them. Two soft offensive penalties nullified 2 Giants scores and gave one to the Cowboys for a 21 point swing. Cowboys covered up their OL weakness and hit a bunch of big plays against the Giants. Maybe they are better than I gave them credit for in my earlier analysis, but I stick by my assertion that they are not a great, talent-stocked team. Let's see how it goes the rest of the season.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Giants: Eagles game preview

I do not understand why the spread on this game is only 3 points. I have never been this pessimistic about the Giants chances in a game in recent memory. Giants are coming off one of their worst defensive performances of the last few years. (I'm excluding last year which was tainted by injury.) By contrast, the Eagles are coming off one of the most impressive, overwhelming offensive performances I have ever seen. The Eagles offense threw deep, short and medium. They threw to their outside WRs, to their TEs, ran the ball effectively, had Vick extending plays to find his WRs and scrambling when the pocket broke down or when he saw an opening. With those two units, the Eagles offense and the Giants defense, seemingly going in opposite directions, how do the Giants avoid getting trampled by a Vick-led offense that seems unstoppable and seems to be a perfect match up against the Giants defense. If you look at the lessons of last week's games, the Cowboys laid out a road map for how to beat the Giants defense. Don't let the Giants pass rush beat you, take lots of shots down the field, use play action passes and route combinations that will divert the safeties from helping out on the deep balls. The Cowboys did it by max protecting often and giving help to their OL to keep the Giants away from an immobile Kitna. The Eagles OL is superior to the Cowboys OL and they will not have to give as much help in pass protection. More important than that of course, is that Vick can avoid any pass rush with his feet and make time for his speedy and talented outside WRs, DeSean Jackson and Jerry Maclin to get deep on the Giants secondary. It is a very tall order for the Giants defense to handle.

(BTW - did everyone see Redskins unhappy DT Haynesworth fall to the ground on one of the Eagles pass plays - when he saw Vick starting to scramble around, he just lay there and did not get up for about 4 or 5 seconds, until the play was over. He's a real high effort player. He has a low motor; the anti-Tollefson)

The best the Giants can do defensively this week is to take a page out of the Cowboys playbook from last week. Play more zone and less man-to-man; play a little more conservatively with the secondary than they have so far this year. Man-to-man underneath occasionally to use different looks on Vick is fine, but always 2-deep zone behind them and make sure that you keep everything in front of you in the secondary. Remember that when the defense plays man-to-man underneath, the CB's backs are turned to the line of scrimmage and it gives Vick all kinds of running lanes, so this should only be used as an occasional change up look. But, you can't sit back in the same defense all game long, because a smart play caller like Reid will pick it apart. You may have to live with some runs by Vick at the expense of keeping him from hitting big plays down the field. If you stick with a lot of zone coverage, you are essentially saying: make the Eagles beat you with lots of short plays, hope the defense can make a play and don't gamble and challenge them to hit deep plays.

At the same time, while the DB-field needs to be conservative, I think you have to be aggressive and varied with the pass rush. Occasional blitz of a S or CB is not a bad idea, even though it is a big risk. Vick is too quick and it would be too easy for him to evade a blitzing LB, so bringing the extra DB instead gives a better chance of getting home. Giants, more than usual, need a huge game from their DL. They will need to stop the run on their own, without as much frequent help from an aggressive S in the box. They will also need to generate a pass rush while staying somewhat disciplined in the rush lanes so as not to let Vick out of the pocket. This is much easier said than done, Vick is a crazy athlete and a great runner. To play well, of course, the DL needs its top players to play well: Canty, Cofield, Tuck and Osi. But they will need some help and big games from secondary players this week as well. Specifically, Rookie JPP and even Dave "Rudy" Tollefson need to play very well this week because they are unusually fast for DL-men, even with the emphasis in the NFL on outside speed rushing DEs. Speed up front may be able to keep Vick from killing the Giants defense all by himself. Giants could have really used Kiwanuka this week against a shifty Vick. I would think about dressing Linval Joseph as an extra DL-man this week. The DL will benefit from frequent rest and lots of rotation to stay fresh while chasing after Vick all night. Overall, the Giants DL has quickness and is better suited to chase after Vick than the Redskins DL was, with Haynesworth in the middle.

The big worry is that if the Giants defense allows a lot of big plays and the game turns into a shootout, the crippled Giants offense, limited and not running on all cylinders, will be unable to keep up. Giants offense has 2 of their starting OL-men out (O'Hara and Diehl) and one (Seubert) playing out of position. Boothe was not very good at G last week and the injuries really hurt. (Word this morning is that Andrews, who played so well against the Cowboys has a bad back;  his absence would really hurt the team.) They are also missing Smith, their best WR and have a few key substitutes also gone (Barden). Don't forget that they lost for the year some other WRs that could have come in handy at this point, in Hixon, Moss and Cruz. That's a lot of talent that they are missing and the  Giants will not be as explosive as usual on offense. They did sign Derek Hagan, so at least they will have warm bodies at the WR position. Maybe the Giants can get a little creative and use Bradshaw in the slot sometimes with Jacobs and Ware doing more of the running. I would prefer to use Jacobs more in this game anyway, to try to push around the somewhat lighter Eagles defense. The Giants offense has to be careful with the ball and generate a big running game.

Overall, on both sides of the ball, a generalization we can make is that the Eagles are built for speed and the Giants are built for size (though speed is not bad.) Giants have to approach the game to try to leverage their size and mitigate the Eagles speed advantage.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Giants: Another look back at the Cowboys game

Statistics can be both misleading and instructive. The Giants defense got hammered on big plays last Sunday. In all, they allowed 7 plays of more than 24 yards, with 4 of them being more than 44 yards. The Cowboys gained a total of 427 yards on Sunday, but 286 of those yards came on the 7 plays that were greater than 24 yards. Overall the Cowboys averaged 8.5 yards per snap, which is an astounding number, but if you look at a split between the 7 big plays and the other 43, the numbers are even more interesting. On the 7 big plays, the Cowboys averaged 41 yards per play and on the other 43 plays averaged just 3.2 yards. That amounts to 66% of their yards from 14% of their plays. To me this shows the coaching strategy change that the Cowboys used and how effective it was. Go for big plays, max protect when you do and be careful with the ball and conservative on your other plays. The 71 yard screen pass to Felix Jones was the perfect call, catching the Giants LB in a blitz. While the Giants defense got toasted by these long plays, If the safeties had been a little more careful in preventing the big plays, they could have easily won this game.

By contrast, the Giants had 6 plays greater than 20 yards, with only 2 of them greater than 35 yards (not including a 35 yard pass interference penalty). The Giants had 76 snaps in the game, averaged 28 yards on their 6 longest plays and 4.4 per play on the other 70. These 6 long plays represented 8% of their total plays and 35% of their total yards. That is not a bad ratio, but it illustrates the impact of big plays and the strategy that the Cowboys used. The heavier dosage of zone defenses that the Cowboys used kept the Giants offense from breaking big plays and gave them the opportunity to mess up with turnovers and penalties. The Giants offense obliged itself of this opportunity, by the way.

Everyone has been raving about Fewell's defense, but the truth is that, including the Colts game, this is now the 2nd game where the defense has been out-coached by the opposing offense. The DC has been slow to react to a change in tactic by the offense or an unexpected game plan.

Maybe the Cowboys exposed a flaw in the Giants defense. Take away the Giants pass rush with max protect, use crossing routes and/or play action to freeze the S or get the S to bite up on one of those short crossing routes and hit a speedy WR deep. This is nothing revolutionary - it is Offense 101, but the Giants may be more vulnerable to it because of the aggressiveness of their safeties. The 3-S alignment seems smart and innovative, but it does force the S to think aggressively, because if they sit back deep, they would be vulnerable to a power running game which is what the Colts did to Fewell's defense in game 2. I guess the strategy of 3 safeties has to be used more selectively. The truth is, it might be effective, or even necessary against the Eagles, because they are a team reliant on lots of speed and are not a power running team. Certainly you want speed on the field with Vick running around all over. More on what the Giants chances are against the Eagles in a  later post.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Giants: Injuries again

All the papers are making a big deal about Giants second half swoons under Coughlin. It's such rubbish - you can't just look at a few seasons and the second half record to determine the coach's ability. The worst second half results that Coughlin had with the Giants, statistically at least, were in 2006 and 2009. In 2006, Giants started 6-2 and finished 2-6. In 2009, Giants started 5-0 and finished 3-8, but in both seasons the Giants were absolutely decimated by injuries. I won't go over the details, but the injuries were focused on the defense and they had no chance to win. It wasn't about coaching, it was about injuries.... and they certainly didn't seem to fold in the second half of the 2007 season. If you want to look at Coughlin's coaching record from the macro level, you just need to realize that he was a successful, winning coach everywhere he coached and in each case he took weak or nonexistent programs and built them into winners. He came from the Bill Parcells coaching tree and was an assistant coach on the 1990 Superbowl team. He developed a close bond with Bellichick, as Coughlin was the WR coach and Bellichick was the DB coach. They worked long and hard together figuring out how to make each of their opposing units excel. In Jacksonville he was the first coach of the expansion team, meaning he built everything form the ground up, and he took the Jaguars to two conference championships. He got into some salary cap problems there and was fired. He took a year off coaching and went to coach at Boston College. When he took over, the program was in a shambles and he built it up so that it was a strong winning program again and he beat Notre Dame, still a college football power when he played them. He came to the Giants and took over a 4-12 team from Jim Fassel. He tutored a rookie QB in 2004, made the playoffs in 2005 and 2006, with the 2005 season being a division championship. I don't have to tell you what he did in 2007. In 2008, the team was 12-1 and was undone by the Plaxico Burress shooting incident. In the 5 years that Eli was a starting QB for the full season, he made the playoffs 4 times and won 1 title. That's a good record and talk of second half declines are just stupid. Maybe we could say that the team reached its true level and his expert coaching elevated the team in the first half of the season. That would be stupid also, of course - each season needs to be considered on its own merits and analyzed separately. He is a good coach, with some flaws to be sure, but certainly one of the better coaches in the league.

The worry we should have about the Giants is the injuries cropping up again, all focused on one side of the ball. Last year it was the defense that got hammered and this year the injuries are focused around the offense. Giants came into the season pretty deep on the OL but now have lost Beatty, Diehl, Koets and O'Hara. Only Koets is done for the season, so perhaps when the other guys come back, the Giants can be strengthened again. Certainly the difficulty running the ball Sunday against the Cowboys was contributed to by the loss of OL-men. O'Hara was a beast in game one against the Cowboys and he freed Seubert to pull and do his best work of the year. With Seubert doing duty at C, Giants used Boothe at G and he is much less mobile and capable than Seubert at that position. I don't have to tell you that Boothe got called for the crushing holding penalty that nullified the Nicks TD. Giants need to survive until these guys get back.

Another key injury is the Steve Smith pectoral muscle tear. It looked like Barden was really stepping up and filling in competently in his first significant action of the season, but now he is gone for the year with torn ligaments and a broken ankle. Giants resurrected Derek Hagan who made the team last year and was a surprise cut at the end of training camp this year. I hope he's been keeping in shape.

As with the OL injuries, Giants don't need Hagan to play at a pro-bowl level. We need him to play well enough so the Giants offense doesn't really suffer; the Giants can at least win the games that they need to win and hold down the fort until the starters get back.

Giants: Cowboys game 2 review

There were lots of worries to take out of this game. First, it's not surprising that the Giants lost the game - when you give up an INT for TD, you almost never win the game. The first Cowboys game, where Giants had 5 turnovers and gave up a punt return for a TD is an extraordinarily unlikely set of circumstances for the team that gives up those plays to win the game. This game fell more in to line with the norm. The pick-6 itself appears to have been Nicks fault, not a bad read or bad throw from Eli. Nicks cut off his slant route and Eli put it right in the breadbasket of the CB. There are some times where sight adjustments and/or audibles are possible and the WR can adjust his route, but this was not one of those times. I always thought that the WR should be able to make some signal to the QB so he can, in effect, call an audible too. The CB had inside coverage, there was no other DB behind Nicks and it looked like an easy play would have been for Nicks to take a step inside and run a fade to the back of the end zone for an easy TD. Didn't happen.

The real worry to me was how many big plays the Giants defense gave up. There were 5 or 6 plays greater than 30 yards. It seemed like the Cowboys strategy was to completely shun the mid-level passing game. They were not in favor of of running long 10 or 12 play traditional TD drives. They were either very conservative in their play calls, running the ball or using screens and WR hitches, or threw the ball deep down the field, with little in between. When they went deep, it was either off of play action passes and/or using max protect. They were in effect saying - we will be conservative and not turn the ball over on medium distance passes. They have great skill position players and they were trusting them to make a play on the ball even if they do not beat the DB. Dez Bryant is exactly that kind of player and he made one or two plays when the coverage on him was perfect. Cowboys also felt that if they throw an INT, let it be on a deep pass, where it is almost like a punt. Good strategy and it worked.

The play that bothered me the most was the 3rd and 20 completion for first down to Roy Williams. He didn't do anything clever or tricky. He just ran straight up the sideline and was wide open for a 25 yard pass. 

On Bryant's first long completion both the CB Thomas and the S on that side, Rolle, read perfectly that Bryant was running a go route. They turned their hips immediately, came out of their backpedal and started sprinting down field, which is the proper technique. Bryant simply outran both of them, even with the 15 yard head start that Rolle had from the S position. Bryant is a scary player and I am sick that the Giants will have to face him twice a year for the next 10 years. If I were the Cowboys I would throw 30 passes per game towards him and hope that he makes some plays on the ball even if he is covered.

So one question that we can be worried about with this awful Giants defensive performance is: was the high quality play of the Giants DL in the first 8 games masking the fact that the DB-field is not as good as we think it is. I think that is not the case - there is enough of a body of work from this secondary to know that they have good players back there. Phillips had a bad game at S and the CBs were beaten badly, but we have seen quality play from them in the past. Still, it is a valid question to ask.

The second question we can be worried about from this defense is in the true quality of the DL to get after the passer. Did the Giants DL do well when it was facing below par OLs, but is not able to generate a pass rush at all when the opposing OL is good. I was surprised how little Fewell blitzed this past week, and there was no pressure at all on Kitna. Obviously, even a great DL is slowed down a bit when they face a great OL, but there was noooooo pass rush at all on Kitna.

With all that, with the defensive breakdowns and with the turnovers and the pick-6, the Giants, but for a play here or there could have won this game. The bogus holding call on Boothe nullifying the great TD pass to Nicks, the false start from the 2 that nullified Jacobs TD run and preceded the pick-6 and finally the drop by Nicks on the 2nd and 20 on a perfectly thrown ball by Eli, which would have gone for a TD or at least 20-30 more yards were all simple plays that killed the Giants chances.

It was interesting that the Cowboys played a lot less man-to-man and a lot more zone coverage against the Giants WRs this week. They showed that they can not cover the Giants man-to-man in the first game and they were smart to play more zone. Giants moved the ball through the air and hurt themselves with their own mistakes, but that's the theory of zones. Keep your man in front of you, make the offense go down the field on long, slow, tedious drives and expect that they will make a mistake or your defense will make a play or two somewhere along the drive in order to stop them. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Giants: Cowboys game preview

I actually heard from some of the talking heads on television that one change the Cowboys were going to make offensively was to run the ball more. I guess that means that Jason Garret is blaming the previous offensive coordinator for incompetence and the team's woes. I am actually hoping that they run the ball more. Giants have been very good stopping the run this year and while the Cowboys OL is fairly big, and therefore presumably, good run blockers, I am still more worried about Dez Bryant than I am any RB on their team. Last week, the Giants did not blitz much and sat back in coverage against the Seahawks. Because Kitna has a fairly good arm but is more or less immobile, I can see the Giants blitzing more against the Cowboys this week. The Cowboys OL has not been playing well as a unit this year. They have not been switching well and reacting quickly to what the defense is doing against it. That seems like a good team to blitz against. This may not be an easy game against the Cowboys offense - Kitna threw for 380 yards against the Jaguars two weeks ago and the Cowboys do have some talented WRs. Last week against the Packers, the whole team mailed it in, so we can't judge anything off of that. But the fact remains that the Cowboys have some very good skill position players. Their achilles heel is a weak OL, which is magnified now that they have an immobile QB. The question is: is the Cowboys OL bad or..... are they good players who just happen to be playing badly this year? The point is that if their OL has a little revival, plays with some inspiration and neutralizes the Giants DL, they could give the Giants some trouble.

There is not much history on Pasqualoni, the new Cowboys DC. He was the HC at Syracuse for many years and only recently ventured into the NFL. He was DL coach and TE coach for the Cowboys for two years. Then he went to the Dolphins where he was DC for two years, before being fired by Parcells in January 2010. He was then rehired by Jerry Jones as DL coach in Dallas and now has been promoted to DC. Dolphins play a 3-4 defense as do the Cowboys, so the Giants have some film on Pasqualoni's Miami defense to get an idea of what types of things he will do. The risk, however, is that he will try something completely out of character and confuse the Giants. Certainly, after the first game, we all saw that the Cowboys defensive schemes were very predictable and Eli could read exactly what was coming. Perhaps Pasqualoni will be able to disguise things a bit more which may give Eli and Gilbride some difficulty. They will not be able to retool the entire defense, but they introduce some things that will confuse the Giants.

Frankly, with the Giants making yet another change in the OL, by putting Boothe or Petrus in at LG, the risk of the OL missing some things is increased. If I were the Cowboys, I would blitz a lot against the Giants this Sunday and come from different angles and different sides of the field. Their DB-field can't cover anybody anyway, so they may as well gamble and have the S or CB blitzing off the edge. Giants running game then becomes very important, as well as some screens and draws. The WR hitch pattern that was so effective against the Cowboys in the first game will also be a good weapon against DB blitzes. Look for the Giants to try at least one double move off of that hitch pattern this Sunday.

Apparently Steve Smith hurt his pecs in practice today. Maybe Ramses Barden gets some extended playing time this Sunday.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Giants: OL injuries; Cowboys game

Adam Koets is done for the season, having been put on IR with a torn ACL. To compensate for that loss, the Giants activated Kevin Boothe who had been on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list and has now been activated. To magnify the OL worries, David Diehl appears to have a partially torn hamstring as well as an injury to his hip and will probably be gone a few weeks. He said he would like to be back for the Eagles game, which would mean only a  one week absence, but that optimistic prognosis by him is at least partly motivated by financial factors. Diehl's contract has an escalator clause that pays him more money depending on how many games he starts at LT this year. I am sure he was a little ticked off that he had to slide over to LG last week against the Seahawks, but if this injury sidelines him for several weeks, it could really hurt him in the pocketbook.

It will be very interesting to see what the Giants do this week in their OL configuration. O'Hara is still not fully healed from his foot sprain and Koets, his backup for 3 games until this past week's Seattle game, is gone for the season. Boothe could play LG, but I would love to get a glimpse of the future and see the Giants start Petrus at LG. The OL would be: LT Andrews; LG Petrus; C Seubert; RG Snee; RG MacKenzie. This is actually a likely configuration, because even though Boothe has more experience than Petrus, he has just come off the PUP list and is unlikely to be in shape to handle a full game. Maybe 10-15 snaps in the first week that he is active is a limit. The Giants are very thin at OL this week, with Boothe being the only substitute. The longer term picture for the rest of the season is not bad, assuming that O'Hara, Beatty and Diehl will come back within the next few weeks. But this week the Giants will dress only 6 OL-men. There aren't even any OL-men on the practice squad for the Giants to promote in an emergency. Look for the Giants to sign an OL-man just to have an emergency fill in. If that happens, they will surely cut Hall, the DE recently signed.

The Giants beat the Cowboys handily three weeks ago and the Cowboys have absolutely tanked in the two games since then, losing to the Jaguars and getting crushed on national TV Sunday night against the Packers. It is hard to come up with a scenario where the Cowboys play so well and the Giants play so poorly that the Cowboys will win the game. The truth is, this is not just about coaching. The Giants are just flat better than the Cowboys at all but 2 or 3 of the 22 starting positions. When you add coaching, chemistry and focus into the picture, the Giants really should win. Vegas seems to be similarly unimpressed by the Cowboys coaching change, making the Giants 2 TD favorites.

Still..... I know the Giants could/would/already did beat the Cowboys with Phillips as HC; introducing the variable of a new coach adds some uncertainty. What if Phillips really had lost the team, the players were not listening to him and the locker room speech by Jones as well as Garret's promotion really inspires the team. It's not possible for Pasqualoni, the new DC, to install an entirely new defense in 3 days, but he might be able to come up with a few unorthodox blitz packages and coverage schemes that, with the unsettled nature of the OL, disrupts the offense. The truth is that while the Cowboys secondary is really weak, they do have some talented players in the front 7. If this game is dangerous to the Giants it is precisely because of this matchup: Cowboys good front 7 and exotic blitzing schemes by the new DC, matched up against a Giants OL that is seriously beat up and has had to shuffle or replace 3 of the 5 starters on the OL.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Giants: Phillips firing

I said last week that the Seattle game was not a trap game, because a trap game has three components: (1) a team on a winning streak (2) a weak opponent this week and (3) a strong opponent coming up that the team may look ahead to instead of concentrating on the current week's opponent. Actually, when you think about it, this week's game against the Cowboys theoretically qualifies as a trap game. Giants are on a 5 game winning streak and are very confident. This week's opponent, the Cowboys, stink and the Eagles are coming up next week. But the rivalry with the Cowboys is such and the importance of division games is such that the Giants would never take a Cowboys game lightly. This firing of Phillips also adds some cachet to the game and it's hard to imagine that the Giants will prepare poorly and play half-heartedly this Sunday. That doesn't guarantee a win of course - maybe the new DC puts in some zone defenses that the Giants offense hasn't seen yet. maybe the Cowboys put in some new blitz schemes and packages that Gilbride hasn't prepared for. A turnover, a ST play and a few lucky bounces early in the game and the Cowboys players could come out inspired and play hard.

As Is aid many times before, I think the Giants are far superior to the Cowboys personnel-wise and with Kitna as QB, they are less dynamic offensively. Giants should win. It's just that this coaching change adds a little uncertainly. I know Giants could beat them with Phillips as coach; this just adds a scintilla of doubt.

Maybe Jason Garret comes in and blames the whole mess on the previous offensive coordinator.

Giants: Seattle game review

I expected the Giants to win and said as much in last blog post. The only thing that could hurt them was a rash of turnovers and allowing some big plays on ST. Instead, Giants took the ball away more than they turned it over and, while they gave away one long KO return to Leon Washington, also got a takeaway on ST setting the Giants up for one of their first half TDs.

I understand that Seattle is not very good and had some key injuries, but they are still an NFL team, were 4-3 coming into the game, undefeated at home and in fact have beaten some decent teams this year, including Chicago and San Diego. Giants yesterday made them look like a high school team.

I am not going to go through the obvious things that everyone could see: Eli was sharp, Nicks is a star, the OL is playing better and better each week, the defense absolutely crushed the running game of the Seahawks and Pete Carrol is a great coach. College coach, that is. On some of the strategy elements of the game, it's obvious that Fewell and Gilbride read my blog last week and came in with a game plan based on my posts. Specifically, on defense, Fewell blitzed very little, the Giants defensive game plan was about as vanilla as it could be. It almost looked like a preseason game. Seattle did a lot of max protection in deference to the Giants pass rush. Instead of the Giants trying to blitz, they sat back in coverage and had 7 guys defending 3. Giants switched well between man-to-man to different zone defenses.

On offense, Giants piled up a lot of rushing attempts and yards in the fourth quarter, but came out aggressive and passing in the first half. After they put the game away with a 35-0 first half lead they got a little more conservative.

There were several significant things to take away from this game that have me really pumped up. For one thing, the emergence of Shaun Andrews in the starting lineup at LT replacing David Diehl is a real plus. The way the Giants shuffled the line, sliding Diehl to G and Seubert to C and still getting a dominant performance was very positive. It shows that the Giants have both incredible talent and well as great depth almost everywhere on this team. Andrews played better at LT than Diehl has been playing, even though Diehl's play has improved a bit in recent weeks, and the Giants have to find some way to make this move permanent. They have to be delicate about it because they don't want to upset the apple cart of great team chemistry and locker room togetherness, which would be a risk if they replace the very popular long time starter Diehl. It's why the way they did it this week was so thoughtful. They got the player in there under the veneer of injury to the C and worry about handling the noise in Seattle without "dissing" Diehl. Diehl came out of the game with a hip injury, so maybe he misses a few weeks and if so, Andrews could establish himself as a player and can keep the spot. Maybe going to a rotation, like they do on the DL is the solution. Either way, I am very enthused about this move. When you look at the Giants offense, they have the QB, the RBs, the WRs and a very good OL with a weakness at LT. This move could catapult them into being a practically unstoppable offense. I went over the film and Andrews played exceptional football. He handled Seattle's best pass rusher with ease, completely shutting him down. He was punishing in the running game, staying with his blocks 7 and 8 yards downfield. He was perfect in blitz pickups, handling quicker LBs when he had to switch and also handling a CB on one blitz, keeping him in front of him despite his disadvantage in quickness and speed. He is an excellent football player and the Giants have to keep him on the field.

I want to concentrate on this team, this year, but the future looks bright for this offense. They have the foundation of a great OL for years into the future, with Andrews, Beatty and Mitch Petrus, who the coaches are very high on. I hope you noticed that when Petrus got into the game yesterday, on his first play, he pulled and absolutely flattened a Seattle LB in the open field on a running play.

I was really happy to see DJ Ware get some reps, even if it was only garbage time in the 4th qtr. Nevertheless, he got some live game action and, in the event of something untoward happening to the starting RBs (like an injury), Giants at least have someone that can step in and hold down the fort. BTW - DJ Ware is a very good RB and might be the most polished and smoothest of the 3 RBS on the team. I love Bradshaw and Jacobs, but Ware is very good also. In terms of straight line speed, he might be the fastest of the 3 RBs.

Eli and his WR corps were great as usual. I loved the throw to Nicks for the 46 yard TD on the post. It was not a perfect throw by Eli, but it was smart by Eli to lead him to the inside and make him make a play on the ball. If he had thrown the ball straight over the top, there's a risk that he could have overthrown the ball. Instead, the decided to throw the ball to the inside, where Nicks could make a play on the ball and the defender would be unable to make a play. It was a good throw, but more importantly a very intelligent throw and a great adjustment on the ball by Nicks.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Giants: Seattle preview and other random thoughts


On the surface, we should be somewhat concerned about the Seattle game. It may not be a classic trap game, in the narrow sense of the word, but it still has some of the requisite elements. A trap game is one against a weak opponent (true), when your team is on a roll feeling good about itself (also true) and has a big game against a tough opponent coming up the following week (definitely NOT true.... our boys get the awful Cowboys again, at home this time). It fits 2 out of the 3 criteria for a trap game, so perhaps we should worry. The theory is that the overconfidence of the team, especially coming off a gritty road win, will make them treat the current opponent lightly and they will look ahead to the following week. Frankly, I don't see that happening with this team, they seem really together and don't have me-first, arrogant guys that will be overconfident.

 More worrisome perhaps, are the memories we all have of the Giants last two games in Seattle, which were bitter defeats. In 2005, Giants got called for 11 false start penalties, 6 of them on Pettigout. Feely missed 3 FGs that would have won the game, but the Giants lost in OT. The game in 2006 was not close - Giants were down some 30 points in the first half, made the score respectable in garbage time, but were dominated in the game. That was the infamous "we were out-coached" (Shockey) game. So the venue itself may make it tough, but in addition to that, the Seahawks are 3-0 at home, are +8 in turnover margin at home and have a dangerous kick return game with ex-Jet Leon Washington doing a great job. The biggest threat is turnovers and ST, but that's not a big revelation; those are threats every week. The fact is that the Seahawks are near the bottom of the league statistically on both offense and defense and the Giants should beat them if they manage the turnovers. Consider the following which makes the match up look good for the Giants:
  • Seattle has a weak OL, having given up 8 sacks last week to the Raiders. In addition they lost their best OL-man to injury; he was put on IR this week. Giants seem to get after the QB pretty well this year, so this match up looks good for the Giants.
  • Hasselbeck is out and backup Charles Whitehurst (who is thought to be  pretty talented and is their apparent QB of the future) will be making the first NFL start of his 5 year career. Perhaps he is good, he is talented, but he is also inexperienced and may have trouble against the Giants defense. I look for Fewell not to blitz very much, to let the DL take care of the pass rush and to try to confuse the young QB with different coverages rather than to gamble on blitzes.
  • Seattle's defense is ranked very low in pass defense (29th) but not as bad in rush defense (10th). Defensive statistics can be a little misleading, but a weak pass defense also seems like a good match up to the Giants effective passing attack.

One thing to watch out for is that Seattle does have a lot of sacks, but that could partly be a function of the fact that they have a weak pass defense, so teams are invited to pass a lot against them, giving the defense more opportunity for sacks.

Random thoughts:

I saw a great quote from Pete Carrol in the paper. He was asked what the biggest difference was between coaching Seattle and coaching USC. He said: "We don't win every week".

Terrell Thomas and Steve Smith were both in Carrol's factory at USC. Smith said he saw on film some of the schemes and plays that they used at USC. I hope he was helping the coaches game plan for Seattle. 

A look back at some coaching decisions in the Dallas game: Wade Phillips' first flag was to challenge the spot of the ball on Mario  Manningham's first down in the 1st quarter. Even though it looked like a reasonable play to challenge -  Manningham did seem to get a generous spot - it was really a stupid call by Phillips. First of all, spotting the ball is the hardest challenge to overturn and has a low success rate. Second of all, it really wasn't that critical a play to challenge. It was only a difference of 1 yard and while it is true that it meant a possession change, it was not that important - Giants were still in their own territory and it was only the first quarter. Under those circumstances, you have to be sure you're going to reverse the call.

Wade Phillips was signaling for a time out after the Witten fumble near the end of the first half.  Why? Did he want to give the Giants more time to score? On a change of possession, the clock stops anyway; perhaps he wanted to make sure that the refs reviewed the play, but they were doing that anyway. The fact is, he just does not have control of the game.

What was Gilbride thinking when he called a pass with 3:35 to go in the game and the Giants up 18. The only way to make the game close was to allow the Cowboys to score quickly. And the only way that could happen is on a turnover. Giants should have run the ball, punted and made the Cowboys go the length of the field 3 times to win the game. Not much chance of that with 3:35 left.

Speaking of Wade Phillips, why did he not kick a FG to make it a 2 score game instead of going for it on 4th down.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Giants: Is your QB more like A-Rod or Jeter ?

Alex Rodriguez, aka A-Roid, has a well earned reputation as someone who manufactures his statistics on the backs of weak middle relievers, fifth starters and other crappy pitchers in the league as opposed to the top starters in baseball. More important, he seems to pile up those RBIs and HRs in games where one team or the other already has a 7 run lead and the game is largely over. By contrast, Derek Jeter, aka the Captain, has a reputation of being a great clutch player, which means that he elevates his game in tight situations, or at the very least, does not get tight and is able to perform just as well in close situations as he does in the rest of his at bats.

Whether this superficial analysis is fair or not, it is certainly the reputation that is tagged on both of these players. I always wondered how QBs fared in similar situations. For example, a QB like Phillip Rivers has played against weak AFC opponents his entire career (this year could be an exception, because the Chiefs and Raiders seem to have had something of a revival) and Rivers was able to pile up great stats against bad teams in blowouts. Eli, on the other hand, as has been well documented on this blog, has played his entire career against the very tough NFC East (again, this year may be something of an exception) and has always seemed to shine in tight situations against rugged defenses. He does not pile up big stats all year and all game long, but always seem to come up big when his team needs him most. This was a feel, an impression that we had of him, but I was not sure if it was accurate and could be supported statistically. Until now, that is - I saw a great analysis this week in the NY Times, in The Fifth Down column by Chase Stuart:

"Garbage" statistics, for quarterbacks, the ones that occur when a game is no longer in question, often don't tell us much. But consider quarterback statistics in close games in the second half only - that is when the score differential is less than 10 points.
Through Sunday, David Garrard, Eli Manning , Derek Anderson and Matt Schaub  each posted a passer rating of over 100 in those circumstances.
He continues with some analysis of other QBs, but Eli is at the top of the heap.

Giants: looking ahead

Turnovers - way too many turnovers, both from the passing game as well as the running game. Some of the interceptions, as has been said over and over, have been on the WRs for not holding on to balls that they should have had and some are on Eli for being inaccurate with his throws. The interesting thing is that these are virtually all physical mistakes and can theoretically be fixed. There have been virtually no interceptions that have come as a result of bad reads by the QB, sloppy routes by the WRs or the QB and WR not being on the same page. There also have been no INTs that came as a result of Eli trying to squeeze a throw into a space that is too narrow. To me, that is somewhat encouraging. The offense is playing very effectively and needs to tighten up on some of its execution to be really strong. What everyone is focusing on in the Cowboys game is that the Giants had 5 turnovers and still won the game. What is more remarkable is that they turned the ball over 5 times.... that's 5 possessions that were unproductive.... and they still scored an amazing 41 points.

The other interesting thing is that sometimes with big play WRs and an attacking passing game, you sometimes take more chances and, while you get more points, you may also have more turnovers. Giants have to find the right balance of staying aggressive to make plays and not taking undue risks. The last INT against the Cowboys was a perfect example - there is no way that a pass should have been called with 3:35 left and the Giants holding a lead of 18 points. But, once Gilbride called it, Eli should have thrown the ball away when he saw nothing was there. His confidence in himself making a play on every pass probably did him in there.

ST have gotten a little better, certainly the punter seems to have straightened things out and Tynes had his best game in two years this past Monday night, but they have to get tighter on the kickoff and punt coverage. It seems like every game there is a big return or two that hurts the team. They have the athletes to be good on ST, the coach needs to coach 'em up better and the players need to play more carefully.

Giants have to give JPP more responsibility and keep developing him so he can be a menace in the second half of the season. They also need to get Linval Joseph more playing time at DT. This is not because the DE and DT position are lacking - quite the contrary, they have been playing great. Both of my recommended moves are predicated on the fact that with Kiwanuka now gone for the season and with Osi playing on a sore knee and a presurgical hip, we might suffer an injury and be down to only 2 DEs. I guess we still have Tollefson on the roster, but I wouldn't be comfortable with him staring and playing 40 snaps per game. Therefore, if the Giants get JPP ready to take a full load, it would protect the team against injury and develop flexibility and depth. Getting Joseph ready to play DT allows Fewell to slide Canty out to DE for say 10 snaps per game and give the Giants depth and flexibility everywhere along the DL. It makes sense and it gives the Giants a better view of the quality and talent of those rookies.

Slowly work DJ Ware into the lineup and give him some snaps. Badshaw has been great and Jacobs has played well. However, both play so hard that an injury is not out of the question. Get a backup some reps now, when the starters are healthy, so he'll be ready in an emergency.

Did anyone notice that the Packers have a S who was making hits and plays all over the field Sunday against the Jets. His name was Charlie Pepprah and he is playing really well. The reason I noticed him and recognized his name is that he was drafted by the Giants a few years ago and was among the last cuts of training camp. When your ex-draftees are starting on other teams, it shows that your drafts are good and your talent is deep.

At the risk of rocking the boat, I really want to see the Giants use Beatty when he comes back from his broken foot. He doesn't need to start right away and take Diehl's job, but he needs to get some live game reps. The Giants are obviously high on him, otherwise they would have put him on IR when he broke his foot. He missed 6 weeks already and is probably 1-3 weeks from coming back. If they thought he was an ordinary player, or was a long term project that was not ready to help right away, they would have put him on IR, waited for him for next year and signed another player to help right now. Keeping him on the roster indicates that they think he is ready.

I was hoping Andrews would get worked ino the lineup at G, but Snee and Seubert are playing so well that he can't displace them. He is the backup at T, and Diehl, while still the weakest spot on the line has improved and is playing better. MacKenzie at RT has been positively lights out, especially in the running game. So while it seems that the best spot for an upgrade would be at LT, it's not clear whether it should be Andrews or Beatty. It is dangerous to the chemistry of the team to simply bench Diehl right away. I don't see why you can't do the same thing on the OL that the Giants do so effectively on the DL, which is to give the starters a blow now and then so they are fresh and ready for the 2nd half (of each game and of the season). Further, the Giants would get a read on how good they really are. Work Beatty and Andrews into some kind of OL rotation and we will find out what they've got.

I am a little more nervous about the Seattle game than I should be. It is a game the Giants should win on talent alone, but somehow it is always a tough game when they travel out there. Furthermore, now that the Giants are no longer under the radar, every team is going to give them their best game. The good news is that the Seahawks have a poor defense and a porous OL, which mean that the Giants match up well against them.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Giants: Bye week thoughts

A few random thoughts follow....

If you follow this blog, you know how much I love having old Wade Phillips as coach in Dallas. The primary reason I like him in Dallas is, of course, he is simply an awful coach. He's been a DC for ages, with some moderate success. He's been a HC of several teams with some moderate success during the regular season and an absolutely dreadful record in the playoffs. Remember the 'music city miracle'? Bills took a late lead on the Titans in a playoff game and all they had to do was cover the kickoff and they would win the game. The Titans called a lateral play, where the kick returner it threw the ball all the way across the field and it worked like a charm - Titans scored a TD to win the game. The Buffalo coach that day was old Wade Phillips. It could've happened to any coach. I'm just saying... it happened to Wade. Of course there's also the family relationship and history, with his pappy, Bum, drafting George Rogers so LT fell to the Giants, but we won't go into that now. The main thing is the coaching. It's clear that as we are getting further and further away from the Bill Parcells era in Dallas, the Cowboys are slowly declining. Not just in the character of the team or the on-the-field coaching, but no doubt Bill had a huge hand in personnel decisions influencing owner/president/GM Jerry Jones draft decisions and free agent signings. When Parcells was there, they drafted great DL-men and signed good OL-men. After Parcells, Jerry Jones has been concentrating on flashy skill position players: Felix Jones, Miles Austin, Roy Williams, even Dez Bryant etc. The core of the team is crumbling. I was worried that the Giants OL would get old and bad in a hurry. It looks like that is happening to the Cowboys and the Giants OL is having a little revival.

I used to think that Phillips was a real good DC and just over matched as HC. I think I was wrong - he's not a very good DC either. The Cowboys defensive strategy is so predictable, that any QB/OC with half a brain can carve them up. If their talented DL of Ware and Ratliff can dominate the opposing OL, then the Cowboys defense can look dominant. But if you can block them up front, you can kill them, which Eli did last week. You heard Gruden and Jaworski, and when they diagrammed it in slow motion it was obvious. The pre-snap read that Eli made was always perfect and it allowed Eli to make the play call adjustment and audible if necessary to call the perfect play. They were lauding Eli for his brilliant work, but part of that is the easy read he had of the Cowboys predictable defense. They were either in man to man underneath with a two deep zone or straight zone all the way. There was no deception to their defense. And.... when they were in man-to-man, the CBs gave a cushion which allowed the simple WR hitch patterns to work and let the OL-men get outside and knock some people around to make the play successful. I'm still giving Eli credit for making the reads and making good throws, but it was easy because the Dallas defense is uncomplicated and easy to read. Phillips took over the defense a year ago, so this is all on him. He's a terrible coach. Giants have to hope that the Cowboys go on a winning streak and finish with 6 or 7 wins. That way, Jerry Jones may say that the team didn't quit on Phillips and convince himself that he's really a good coach. With Romo in there, he might rationalize, his Cowboys would still be playoff bound. Don't count on it, though: Phillips is gone. The best hope for the Giants is that Jerry Jones becomes convinced that Dallas really still has a talented roster and hires a coach only, leaving all the personnel decisions in his own capable hands.

As much as I've beaten up Gilbride over the years for being uncreative and predictable, I have to say he's having a pretty good year. The most important thing coaches do is make out the lineup card and he therefore has to get a lot of credit for elevating Bradshaw into the starting position over Jacobs. As much as we like Jacobs, you have to admit that it worked, because Bradshaw is at the top of the league in rushing. Jacobs hasn't been pushed aside - he is still getting a decent number of  touches and is playing well. Giants offense is humming, he's using all his personnel and he varies the game plan week to week between a pass-first or rush-first strategy, always coming back to the other side and maintining some balance in the game. He navigated seamlessly around the injury to Hedgecock and got Pascoe in the game and playing very effectively; he's getting a lot of players in the game, even Barden is getting some PT; he's using all his WRs to their particular strengths and the the passing game is getting more varied each week. He has even been creative with the use of Andrews as an extra TE in the mix. The first few weeks he used him, the Giants ran to the strong side nearly 100% of the time. Since then, he has been much less predictable, running much more often to the weak side and he also used play action passes even with Andrews in the game as TE. Not bad.

Bad news about Shaun O'Hara's foot injury. It was reported as a Lisfranc sprain which can potentially be very debilitating. Some Giants have had it in the past and have managed through it, but others have required surgery. The report is that it is a mild sprain, which could mean that he will miss only a few weeks, but it seems like he is going to be out for the Seattle game. There is no doubt that the OL productivity really picked up when he came back from his injury and in Seattle, where the crowd noise can disrupt an offense and you really need good communication in the OL play, his loss could be serious. Everyone remember the bitter OT loss there, where Feely missed about 18 makeable FGs that would have won the game. We also remember the 5 or 6 false start penalties because of all the noise there and a calm C would really help. Giants always have a tough time in Seattle - I think they've lost the last 4 times they've been up there - but this Seattle team is not as good as the ones that have been there in recent years. Hasselbeck got concussed last week and his availability is up in the air for this week.

Everyone has been saying that the NFC is very mediocre this year and that there are 4 or 5 teams in the AFC that are superior to any team in the NFC. The top of the conference are the Jets and Steelers, with a few others close behind (Ravens, Pats, Colts). The NFC division leaders, including the Packers in the NFC North were thought to be unworthy and although the Falcons were decent, the Saints had clearly taken a step back to the pack. So what happens last week? Packers beat the Jets (on the road, no less) and the Saints beat the Steelers. It will probably take a few more weeks before we see the real conference contenders, but I was really impressed with the Saints defense against the Steelers Sunday night and would  not at all be surprised to see them emerge in the second half. I still like the Giants chances this year.