The game Sunday got out of hand so quickly and went downhill so fast that there wasn't even time to fret, be worried and have that uncomfortable, queasy in-the-pit-of-your-stomach feeling that the game was slipping away. It was over that quick. Eight minutes on the game clock and maybe 25 minutes on the wall clock. Eagles did not have long, slow torturous drives, where we could stew in our juices and be nervous. It was a few huge plays and zap... over. Like pulling off a Band-Aid. They had so many big plays, it felt like we were playing Madden 2004 (that's the one where Vick was on the cover.... you know before his little episode as a torturer and murderer of puppies and prior to his stay in Leavenworth as a convicted felon. I hear he's on the cover of PETA 2011. A real role model.) It's just now actually starting to sink in what a big opportunity the Giants missed on Sunday, and how many individual plays (not to mention coaching decisions talked about in the last blog post) that slipped through the Giants fingers, that if any one of them had played out differently, the Giants would have won. The worst errors by the Giants were: the inexplicable fumble by Manningham, not being hit or stripped, trying to get out of bounds and just dropped the ball, a play that opened the door for the Eagles; the play by Phillips to go for the INT and allow Celek to run for a TD when the score was 31-10; the mistake by Ross to lose contain and allow Vick to run for 35 yards on 3rd and 10 from the Eagles 12 when the score was 31-24; the scramble by Vick up the middle ducking under a sack by Grant. Of course, I am not including the ST failure of peeling back to block instead of staying up to recover the KO.
But you know me, ever the glass-is-half-full kind of guy, I want to spend some time analyzing what went right on Sunday in the first 3 1/2 quarters, when the Giants played well and dominated the Eagles.
Eagles did a fairly good job stopping the Giants running game. There was more running room than the first game, but still too many runs for zero or negative yardage. In the first game, the Giants RBs ran for only 39 yards and Sunday they ran for 100. The Eagles did a lot of run blitzing against the Giants, with the LBs really playing down hill, and guessing when and where the Giants were going to run. There are really only a few remedies for countering those run-blitzes: swing passes to the RB out of the backfield, pitches to the outside where he can get around the pressure or anticipate where the blitz is coming from and slant the run in the other direction. Trap plays may not even work, because the trapping G usually knocks down a DT. If there are extra LBs charging into the backfield, there's not much the OL can do. Why then doesn't every defense run-blitz much more? Because if you guess wrong and the offense throws a little dump off to a TE or RB in the area vacated by the LB, it could go for a big gain. Furthermore, if the blitzer misses the RB, he also proceeds to the second level of the defense with a good gain. O'Hara's blocking was a little spotty in the middle of the OL, which is really to be expected after missing 6 or 7 weeks. The hope is that he will get better as the weeks go along and there will be enough season left where it matters.
The pass blocking by the OL was good, there were several times where Eli had a good clean pocket to throw from. But the truth is that Eli does not get nearly enough credit for moving around a bit in the pocket when there is a rush, buying himself a few more seconds and finding an open space to throw from, which makes the OL look better. I am not saying he is a scrambler or a fast runner, but he is definitely more elusive and has better pocket presence than everyone realizes.
I thought Eli threw the ball very well Sunday, made good decisions with the ball and was very comfortable in the pocket. I usually rant about the uncreative, unimaginative Gilbride (aka Killdrive) and what a mediocre OC he is. I have to give him his due this past Sunday, the game plan was perfect. I said in my pregame analysis that the Eagles CBs were so aggressive and eager to make a play on Eli's passes, that they would bite hard on fakes and would be vulnerable to a double move. I also felt that Manningham on the outside should be the go-to-guy on that deep ball, since Nicks was more likely to be double teamed and given safety help over the top. That's exactly what Gilbride dialed up in the first half on Manningham's first TD. It was a double move, where the CB was beaten so badly, he wasn't even backpedaling or running backwards as Manningham started on the second half of his route. The CB's feet were planted, he was on his toes ready to explode forward and jump what he anticipated the route would be. Manningham ran right through him and the CB was called for illegal contact. Great call, great route, perfect pass by Eli, dropping it right into his receiver's arms. The second part of the game plan was to not be afraid of taking some deep shots down the field early, which even if they did not work would loosen up the Eagles CBs, make them play with a slightly bigger cushion and open up short routes. This worked perfectly and Hagan was wide open for several short and medium routes catching 3 balls for about 40 yards. The other component of the game plan that I liked and wrote about in my preview of the game was to attack the Eagles rookie MLB not just by running at him, but by throwing to the TE on seam routes and option routes in the middle of the field. Gilbride called several of these and Boss had a big second half, catching 3 passes for 59 yards and a big TD. The TD he caught was specifically targeting the MLB, who made a mistake on the play and did not stick with Boss, leaving him open in the back of the end zone. Boss dropped 2 or 3 balls in the first half, one right up the seam over the MLB that would have gone for 40 yards. It is interesting that the Eagles S spent a lot of time paying attention to the WRs, so the TE was often matched up against a LB. That is a big advantage for the Giants against the Eagles defense and I am sure the OC will use that if the Giants get the opportunity to play the Eagles again. I would have liked to see the Giants try some seam routes to Beckum also, who was brought in specifically for that purpose - Boss is an excellent receiver, but Beckum has more speed and might be able to break one of those seam routes all the way. Now that the Giants have started to throw more aggressively to the TE and he has made some big plays, the rest of the league will be aware of him as a threat and it will open up passing lanes and wider areas of the field for the WRs.
Aaron Ross had his best game of the year on pass defense, getting in perfect position several times and defending passes to Avanti and another WR (can't remember who) on a crossing route. JPP continues to come on - he didn't get to Vick for a sack, but knocked down 2 passes at the line of scrimmage. I can't say enough about Justin Tuck - if it's possible to be an under-the-radar, unrecognized superstar, he is it. He was making plays in the running game and in the passing game on Sunday. I particularly liked one sack of Vick, because it showed Tuck's instincts, film study and football IQ in addition to his raw skills. Tuck was coming up field on a passing play with Vick slightly outside the pocket, behind and slightly to the inside of his RT. Tuck was coming at the RT on an angle from the outside. He engaged the RT and leaned his right shoulder to the inside, making it look like he was going to take an inside route to Vick. As soon as Vick saw this, he ran out of the pocket and ran to his right. Tuck anticipated this all the way, because as soon as he had engaged the RT, he ran away from him, straight up the field on a path that intersected with where Vick would be, not where he was when Tuck started the move. Great play by Tuck. It looked to me like Fewell wasn't substituting and rotating as aggressively as he usually does in the DL and they may have gotten a little tired in the 4th qtr as a result. Truth is, Giants had 33 minutes of possession, so it wasn't the total possession in the entire game, but the fact that the Eagles had 3 possessions (almost in a row) in that 4th qtr because of the onside KO, that may have tired them out. Canty had a solid game as did Cofield and Bernard, but Osi was pretty quiet. Giants stayed with the 3 S alignment most of the game, which makes sense with the speed and athleticism that the Eagles have.Tollefson is out for a few weeks, so I am hopeful that 2nd round draft choice Linval Joseph gets activated and takes some snaps. He is a DT and Tollefson was a DE, but the Giants use Tuck a lot at DT, so it probably means that Tuck will get a few more snaps at his normal DE position. Canty can play DE also.
Because the Buccaneers and Packers both lost last Sunday, the Giants have the upper hand in the playoffs. If they beat the Packers, not an easy task on the road, they will make the playoffs. If they lose to the Packers this week, they still have an outside chance of making the playoffs, but will need some help from other teams.