Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Giants: Thoughts before the Eagles game

Steve Smith has a cartilage injury to his knee, requiring surgery and is done for the season. Mario Manningham had a hip flexor injury and apparently this injury is not as serious as it could have been and he may even play Sunday versus the Eagles. The Eagles have some serious injuries themselves on defense that they just suffered this past Sunday that could negatively affect their play. The injuries could be a real influence to the play of the game and the strategy that the Giants employ in the game. Specifically, MLB Stewart Bradley is out indefinitely with a dislocated elbow. There's a chance he could come back in the playoffs, but he is surely out for the rest of the regular season. The Eagles also lost their starting LDE Brandon Graham, their first round draft choice, who is out for the year with a knee injury. With 2 starters in the front 7 out because of injury, particularly the MLB who is key to their run defense, the Giants could easily decide to lean on the power running game and give the Eagles a heavy dose of Jacobs and Bradshaw. Adding to the attractiveness of this strategy is that the Giants running game has really picked up, gaining 200 yards in each of the last two games. The OL seems restored to health and is playing well. Jacobs is running more resolutely and better than I have seen him run in years. The Eagles defense and team is built much like the Colts  - for speed and not for power. Andy Reid's theory is that his offense is explosive and will usually be able to get a lead in the game. If the opposing offense is playing from behind and is forced to pass, Reid's fast but undersized DL will blitz and pass rush all over the yard. Since the Eagles front is missing two key run stoppers from this already-light defense, the formula of running at them seems like an obvious tendency. If Giants employ this strategy, they have to stick with it and not come away from the run if they fall behind early. However, I am still fundamentally a believer in the "pass early, so you can run late" game planning philosophy. You have to mix in enough pass to keep the other guys honest. If, in addition to Bradley and Graham, DB Assante Samuel is out, the Giants should really have an advantage on offense and will have no excuses for not moving the ball..

If Manningham does not play, it means that Derek Hagan who has played well enough, will play and get some more action in the passing game. I said this after the last Eagles game, and I will repeat it here. The Eagles sell out so hard to stop the run, knowing the Giants playbook as well as they do and commit everyone - LB's, CB's and S's - to stop the run when they read it, that a simple trick play would surely work. Send Jacobs into the line, then have him turn and pitch it back to Eli. It will be wiiiiiide open down field.

I read that the Giants are happy with the progress of Devin Thomas, the WR/KR they picked up a few weeks ago from Redskins. Maybe we'll see him Sunday in the passing game.

It is really annoying how complex the Gilbride offense is. It is the reason that it takes WRs weeks and maybe even an entire season to learn the system, get comfortable with all the sight adjustments. pre-snap reads, route adjustments, etc. that they have to do. It may be a reason for all the INT's this year. Each year Gilbride and Manning tweak the offense, expand the play book and add a little more to it. It may have reached the tipping point and is so complex that it often leads to the QB being unsure where the WR is going to be and therefore him throwing without conviction. It could also lead to hesitation in the route running leading to less separation by the WR. The biggest thing we are seeing now is how long it takes for new WRs to learn and internalize the offensive system of Gilbride, which is the strongest indication of its complexity. Experienced WRs like Clayton and even Devin Thomas take a long time before they can even step on the field. Sinorice Moss never quite got it and Manningham was on the bench for a year before he could take an offensive snap. WRs have to make sight adjustments, read the defenses for zone or man and adjust the routes, make subtle route changes on the fly. We saw just two weeks ago that Manning and Manningham were not on the same page - Eli wanted Mario to run deep and he cut off his route. That's not good at this point in the season. By contrast, Norv Turner's offense and his routes are much more simple and compact, though certainly no less effective as is Caldwell's system on the Colts. Both Chargers and Colts have had a ton of injuries at the WR and TE position and have had a revolving door of new WR's coming in being basically very effective almost immediately. That never happens on the Giants. The burn in and training period is too long. Maybe if Chargers don't make the playoffs, Norv gets fired, Gilbride takes one of the open coaching positions (Dallas, would be perfect) and the Giants get to hire Norv Turner as OC.

A double TE formation, with a play action fake and the Giants TE's going down the middle on seam routes, to take advantage of and put pressure on the replacement MLB, might be a good thing to try.

I'll say it again - I hate that Eli is leading the league in INT's. It just has to stop. With the running game geared up and with the entire defense playing well, Giants have an advantage in the game and a good chance to win if Eli doesn't turn the ball over. When you think about it - of the 4 Giants losses this year, 3 have been almost the direct result of turnovers (Titans, Cowboys-II and Eagles-I).

In 2005, when the Giants won the division and Eli played his first playoff game, the Giants got smoked in the first round by the Panthers, 23-0. The reason I bring this game up is because of the offensive strategy that John Fox and the Panthers used in that game. Giants, if you remember, had a long list of injuries to their LB corps and they had  to sign football players off the street, who hadn't practiced at all with the team and were not really NFL caliber players. Fox's offensive strategy was to attack that weakness. He did that with lots of passes to the TE, to RBs on swing passes over the middle, and with a few draw plays and screen passes that typically put the most pressure on LB's. That might be a smart approach for the Giants Sunday - using TE's Boss and Beckum as well as RB's Jacobs and Bradshaw out of the backfield in the passing game. I still like the idea of max protecting with an extra RB and trying to get a TE deep off off a play action fake.

Especially against the undersized Eagles defense, I like the idea of punishing them with Jacobs and then going to Bradshaw. When the defense gets a little tired later in the game is when the speed back really can have a substantial impact. Look what the Eagles do with McCoy their RB nearly every week. He is slow getting going and then really picks things up in the 4th quarter when most defenses slow down just a smidgen. He did it against the Giants in the first game when he had little yardage for 3 1/2 quarters and broke off a 50 yard TD run to put the Eagles ahead and a 20 yard run late in the 4ht quarter to give the Eagles another  first down and seal the game. Giants have to be careful about defending that and about rotating their DL all game long to keep as fresh as possible.

The weather forecast as of Thursday night is for Sunday to be cold, but not bitterly so, with a high of about 37. The key thing that affects the passing game is the wind and, while things could change of course, the wind is supposed to be light, at about 10MPH. The low temperature will probably affect the tailgate and the freezing fans more than game itself.

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