Monday, December 20, 2010

Giants: Eagles game review / Coaches mistakes


At times like these, when your team suffers a bad defeat or some other serious misfortune, it requires some sense of calm, serenity and perspective. You have to make sure you don't just react emotionally to what happened but evaluate and analyze somewhat dispassionately. It is exactly in this spirit of dispassion and intellectual evaluation that I can say with complete conviction that this was not just the worst loss in Giants history. It was the worst loss in NFL history. I don't know if the Elias Sports Bureau can go back and look at games where a home team, leading by 3 TDs has ever given up 4 TD in 7 minutes to lose the game, but even if they could find such a game, I doubt that it would even match all the surrounding circumstances in this game. For one thing, first place in the division and a second seed in the playoffs were on the line. Second additional factor, that can't be evaluated statistically but has to be considered when evaluating the magnitude of a loss is the level of dominance that the Giants had exhibited throughout the first 3 1/2 quarters. The Giants were not just winning the game, they were dominating. The Eagles did absolutely nothing on offense - the Giants were pressuring Vick, stopping their running game, stopping their passing game and keeping him pinned in to the pocket so that he could not run. The 10 points the Eagles scored to that point came as a direct result (as usual) of Giants turnovers - 3 points on a Manning INT and 7 points after Manningham fumbled and gave the Eagles the ball at the Giants 20. But the Giants got some gift points on turnovers also and I am not blaming this loss on those two turnovers, I am merely pointing out that the Eagles offense was stopped cold and got their 10 points only by getting short fields against the Giants defense. Leading 31-10 with 7 1/2 minutes to go required a colossal sequence of coaching blunders that, if any one of them were not made, would have resulted in a Giants win. Let me be clear - there were four or five coaching decision, both strategic and tactical, that had to be made incorrectly in order for the Giants to lose and every single one of them was made incorrectly by the Giants coaching staff. The Eagles are an explosive team with two exceptional play makers that had to be good enough and dynamic enough to take advantage of these coaching blunders, but the Eagles were good enough to do so. Their coach was good enough to see the openings and take the game from the Giants. Let me review the coaching blunders one by one.

Leading 31-10 with 7 minutes left, the defense should be willing to give up a score, but should be in a prevent defense, forcing the opponent to take its time to go the length of the field to score. Instead, on the first play (maybe second play?) after the Boss TD, the Giants were in a single safety high formation with Phillips the only S deep in the middle of the field. Furthermore, the Giants were in a rather exotic zone blitz, which had the CB coming off the edge and Tuck (and perhaps Osi too, not sure) dropping back in the middle of the field in coverage. The blitz did not get home to Vick and you therefore had Tuck running 20 yards down the field to try to stay with TE Celek. Vick got the ball to Celek on a nice throw over the outstretched hand of Tuck, while  Phillips, instead of going for the sure tackle and giving up a 20 or 30 yard play, looks like he went for the ball, missed it and Celek eluded him for a 65 yard TD. The coaches will probably tell you that Phillips made a mistake by going for the ball and not playing safe by going for the TE, but the coaches put the player in a situation where he had no margin for error and where leaning slightly the wrong way ended up in the worst possible result. Is it a player's mental or physical error when the coach puts him in a difficult situation and he fails? That's a rhetorical question - it is a coaching error for the coach putting the player and the team in a position where there was so little margin for error. Aside from the tactical error of exposing Phillips, much worse than that, it  was the coaching gaffe of the highest magnitude to choose a defensive alignment that was strategically incorrect at that point in the game.

That was the first strategic / tactical error and the first play that had to go against the Giants in this perfect storm in order to lose a game like this. Second, even more incredibly, the Giants stayed in that defense a few more times in the next several Eagle possessions which opened running lanes for Vick to take off on and gobble up enormous chunks of yardage. Think about it - you have a running QB, perhaps the fastest player and best runner at any position in the league playing QB and you keep blitzing CBs and dropping DL-men into coverage. What happens then is: if Vick somehow gets past the wave of CB blitzers, on the back end of the defense, instead of having to elude quick, nimble DBs who might be able to run him down and contain him, he has slower DL-men in space to contend with who have no chance at all of keeping up with him. That was a strategic coaching mistake that was inexcusable. I can handle a bad play call here or there. I can accept when the opposing coach outguesses you on a defensive formation or anticipates what you are going to do and has the perfect response. But when you make a strategic miscalculation of that magnitude, it is nothing less than a complete failure of the coaching staff. What happened with this formation? On one of the plays (they are a bit of a blur, so I don't quite remember the sequence of when it happened) Aaron Ross blitzed from the right side of the defense and Tuck and Osi dropped into coverage in the middle of the field. Ross was supposed to go on the outside, stay in his rush lane, keep contain and make sure Vick did not get around him to the outside. Ross made the wrong move, did not keep contain, went to the inside and  Vick went outside him and went for about 35 yards. Was this a mental error by Ross? Maybe - but again, the coaches picked the wrong defense and put the player in a difficult position where one subtle mistake ends up in a huge play for the other team. Ross is a DB and he doesn't blitz that often. Even when the Giants blitz DBs, it is usually Rolle or Thomas, almost never Ross or Webster, so the Giants coaches put a player in a position he was not used to playing and asked him to make a play from that spot. To make my point with an extreme/absurd example, if the coaches were to ask a lean WR to to block a great pass rushing DE and he failed to do so - is that a mental or physical error by the player or a coaching error by putting a player in a suboptimal situation, one in which he was likely to fail. Obviously, Ross rushing off the corner is not as extreme or absurd an example, but the idea is the same. Ross is not used to rushing the passer and might be expected to make a mistake on the angle of his rush. Tuck and Osi are pass rushers and are not used to running down field and making tackles in open space. The coaches put the players in a position where they were likely to fail.

The next colossal failure was on the onside kickoff. Sitting in the stands, my son and I turned to each other and said: would you try an onside kickoff here if you were Reid? We weren't sure, but we agreed that the Giants have to guard against it. The Giants ST were not ready for it and the Eagles, unbelievably, recovered it with so much ease that the Eagle who recovered it probably could have run for about 10 yards after grabbing it. The Giants should have had their hands team on the field to guard against the onside kickoff. If they felt the team that was out there was good enough to cover the KO, they at least should have been in position to try for the recovery. Instead, they were running back getting in position to block for the return. After the game, the Giants coaches said that they warned the players to watch out for the onside KO. But they also said that they did not want to give up the yardage on the return by putting the hands team in the game.  Reid said that if the Giants had put their hands team in the game, he probably would not have tried for that play and would have kicked deep. Here, the coaching failures run deep at several layers. First, at that juncture in the game, leading by two TDs with 7:20 left, it is certainly true that an extra 10 or 15 yards of field position is way less important than possession of the ball. Of course, you might criticize that statement as ridiculous - 10 or 15 yards of field position is always less important than possession of the ball. Really what I mean is that at that point in the game, the clock is more important than field position. If the Giants were to get the ball on their own 15 instead of their own 30 by playing the hands team, they still need to get a few first downs to run the clock, punt and again play conservative defense to prevent the Eagles from scoring quickly. The theory of not wanting to give up field position is that even if the Giants have to punt the ball back, the extra field position gained on the KO return would mean that the Eagles would have that much further to go to score when they get the ball. However,  with the Eagles big play offense, 15 yards of field position hardly means anything. If they were going to score with starting position of their own 20, they would also score from their own 30. Time was the enemy, not yardage. Consequently, the coaches should have sacrificed the yardage because the clock was the the key strategic resource to manage, not field position. Furthermore, the fact that the coaches say that they told the players to watch out for an onside KO is an extremely lame excuse and is more infuriating to me. It is the coaches absolving themselves of guilt and throwing the players under the bus. Apparently, the "team" concept that the coaches try to engender, that everyone is accountable and responsible to each other for mistakes applies only to the players but not the coaches.  If the players didn't "listen" to the coaches, it means that the coaches didn't impress well enough on the players what to do. Either way, it's a coaching mistake. They may have told them to watch out for the onside KO, but the players obviously didn't hear it - coaches did not get their message across, which is what coaches are supposed to do. 

The only mistake in that entire sequence that perhaps can be attributed to a player's physical and/or mental error is the punt that did not go out of bounds. Even there however, the punter Dodge has a huge leg and has been up and down all year. He was awful in the beginning of the year, dropping the ball, shanking punts, hitting low returnable balls, but seems to have steadied a bit in the last few weeks. However, it is unacceptable that the ST / punt coach did not get him to master kicking the ball out of bounds by this point in the season. There are circumstances in some games in every season where this is the required play. It doesn't even matter that DeSean Jackson, the most dangerous punt returner was back there returning. It could have been Refrigerator Perry returning punts, but still, the only way for the Giants to lose the game at that point was to kick the ball in bounds and give the returner a chance. Perhaps this was the play closest to a physical player error, but the fact that in week 15 the ST coaches have not brought the player along to the point where he could execute this play is an indictment of the coaches also. One statistic from Elias: this is the first game in NFL history where a punt return for a TD to win the game was the last play in the game. Inexcusable.

Players play and coaches coach. Coaches are supposed to put players in the right position to make plays and they failed miserably. Back in 1978, the play called "the fumble" happened. The Giants were beating the Eagles, had the game won, only had to take a knee and the win the game. Instead, the coach called for a running play and QB Pisarcik mishandled the exchange with RB Csonka, resulting in a fumble, Herm Edwards swooping in to pick up the ball and run for a TD winning the game. The coach, John McVay was fired by Wednesday. The coaching failures yesterday were much worse than that game. For one thing, that Giants team in 1978 was terrible and had no chance of going anywhere that season. For another thing, that was one play, one misjudgment, one miscalculation, egregious though it might have been that cost the Giants a game that they had in their grasp. In yesterday's game, it was not one coaching mistake; rather  it was 4 or 5 and they were errors of the strategic, game management type that coaches should NEVER make. If the Giants were now 7-7 instead of 9-5 and had no chance of making the playoffs, I would fire them all by Wednesday. The fact that the Giants have so much talent and might actually make the playoffs anyway, does not absolve this coaching staff of guilt or incompetence. 

In later posts, when I calm down a bit, I'll try to analyze what went right in this game. That is the most annoying, disheartening, discouraging thing about this game - the fact that the Giants were dominating the game, shows that they have enormous talent on this team and can play with any team in the league. That's for another day.


Yankel the Nachash said...

This might seem petty, but I was freaking out that they didn't go for it on 4th down with about 2 minutes left in the third quarter. They were mid-field, it was short yardage and knowing that Dodge is a piece-of-sh$t punter, the downside was minimal, as it was guaranteed that he would punt it into the end zone and Philly would get the ball at the 20. Amazingly, Dodge didn't even do that--he punted it to around the 13 yard line, but it was returnable, amazingly, and it was returned to around the 30.
I think the playoff game vs the Niners prepared me well for this game.

Ira said...

The news this morning of the team meeting called by Eli Manning was somewhat refereshing. It couldn't have been called at a better time. We win this week and we are IN THE PLAYOFFS! Very rarely does a team have a chance to redeem itself so quickly after a loss so bad as the one Sunday and the Giants now have this opportunity. Eli knows it and hopefully he can show some real leadership in the locker room (take that Tiki!) and make the team realize they can put that disaster behind them and clinch this week! Go Blue!

wolfman said...

Dodge must be great in practice, and show off a real cannon of a leg, because no coaching staff would have the patience to suffer the number of punting failures that we have seen from him on game day. Give Coughlin credit for this - he is taking the long view of what is good for the team and the organization and risking his own job in doing it. Dodge may emerge as a great ST weapon for Cowher.

Regarding the team meeting, Eli even made some crack along the lines of expecting Tiki to make some comments in the press like he did in 2007. At least he has a sense of humor.