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.

2 comments:

Doron said...

This is a tough predicament for the Giants. As you mentioned, the Giants D is bigger/tougher in some ways than the Eagles offense, but of course the speed of the Eagles offense can overcome those issues. Vick is obviously playing at a very high level, and is a matchup nightmare for any defense right now. While I think that the easiest way to burn the Giants D is by throwing downfield and to look for big plays, etc., I actually think that the Giants game plan will be geared so heavily towards preventing those big plays that the Eagles offense might look for other ways to exploit the D. Historically we have always had problems with containing the Eagles QB (McNabb) and RB (Westbrook). I can envision the Giants safeties playing deep to not give up the big play to Jackson or Maclin, that we may get burned by the underneath stuff, whether it is screens or short pass plays to McCoy or maybe some seam passes to Celek (who I think will have his biggest game of the season tomorrow). As much as we know that Vick can kill you with his legs, I imagine the Giants will take 80 rushing yards from Vick over 300 passing yards and big plays to Jackson. The problem then, is can our linebackers (and perhaps safety/nickel coverage) stop McCoy and Celek in the open field, and will someone be there to stop Vick from running for not only first downs, but huge chunks. I'm not sure we're up to the task honestly. While I want the D line to rush and pressure Vick, it needs to make sure it contains and doesn't leave open the entire middle of the field- we don't need to force Vick to flush the pocket only to be left with a wide open field. So it's a tough task all the way around. Ultimately, our best change to slow them down:
-pressure and HIT Vick (don't just pressure, but get the sacks and hits on him too)
-watch out for screen passes
-of course, don't let Jackson or Maclin get behind you.

I think each individual defender has to play his best game for them to succeed.

A few other ways to keep this close:
-run the ball effectively and chew up some clock. We need to open up holes for the ground game, and the adversity on the O Line makes me nervous.
-Get a lead early. Eagles D plays way better ahead than they do from behind.
-Avoid miscues and bad turnovers. We can't have false starts or holding penalties turn our series into 3rd and longs. If we do that, we won't be able to move the chains, and our Defense will have to be on the field too long.
-Avoid special teams mistakes. Dodge can't shank punts (though maybe don't kick to Jackson either- how about a directional 50-yarder out of bounds?); and Tynes can't miss. And is there any way to have kickoff coverage work so that the Eagles aren't playing with a short field every drive?

All in all, this is a tough spot, and it's not made easier with our injuries at WR and O Line.

I can see the Eagles winning a semi-close game, with each teams putting a fair amount of points on the board.

But who knows, maybe the Giants will surprise us. They do play better on the road, and they've come up with a few surprisingly dominant performances this year (at Houston, at Seattle). Unfortunately, the Eagles aren't the Texans or the Seahawks...

wolfman said...

Doron,

Excellent points.

Two other things to consider which might distinguish the Giants defense from the Redskins:

Vick looked all world last week, but the Redskins defense was at a huge match up disadvantage against the Eagles. First, because the Redskins DL is big and slow, not athletic and fast. Second, their defensive secondary has weaknesses, with only one good, fast S who can give help on deep balls, that being LaRon Landry. Redskins decided that they needed to stop Vick running and so committed Landry as a spy up near the line of scrimmage, which left them open on deep balls.

Giants need to keep their S group actually playing S, need to get a big game form their athletic DL to pressure Vick and do as well as possible handling his running.

Vick is playing better than he used to at Atlanta, it's true - but you've still got to take away big plays and challenge him to try to beat you with his arm on short passes.

Also - don't forget that the Eagles defense is not great. I would feel a lot more confident if the Giants offense wasn't beat up, but we'll see how it goes.

-wm