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.