Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Redskins review II - things to fix

After week 1 of the NFL season, half the teams are feeling great, strutting their stuff, patting themselves on the back about the great wisdom of their off-season acquisitions and contacting their travel agents to inquire about hotel reservations for February in whatever city the Superbowl is being played in that year. The other half of the NFL is worried about the season, complaining about the players, whining about how their coaching staff got out-coached and checking the statistics of how many teams make the playoffs when they lose their first game. God forbid they should lose the second game of the season also - then they're looking to contact whomever it is that took up Dr. Kevorkian's cause when he passed away earlier this year, because assisted suicide is the only honorable exit strategy when your team is 0-2. There is no difference greater in the collective minds of fans, players and coaches than the results of those first two weeks of the NFL season. Having said that and realizing that the results of one game may be somewhat overemphasized, it is still reasonable to review some of the key worries from the Giants game one loss to see what is broken.

On the offensive side, it seems to me that the talent is there in the OL. There were missed assignments and blitz pickups, but I am hopeful that can be fixed. One thing is for sure - every team is going to blitz the Giants like crazy until they show that they can handle it amd burn them for the risk. I am sure Spagnuolo will have a creative game plan cooked up this week; he loves to bring pressure. To me the Giants need to do three things to fix this problem.
>>The obvious step one is to keep working in practice and concentrating until the cohesiveness develops. This will likely take a few games, but I believe that the talent is there.
>>Second, the Giants need to get Da'rel Scott in the game and make him a pass catching threat out of the backfield to give big play potential when you dump the ball off to a back on a hot read or screen.
>>Third, and this is radical - go and sign one of the FA WRs that are sitting on the sideline, not playing, to give a real vertical threat to this offense. I'm talking about Randy Moss, TO or even Sinorice Moss, who never made it in the league but has undeniable speed. Contracts are not guaranteed after game 2, so if it doesn't work out, you can cut them without much pain or expense. But if one of them still has some gas left in the tank, you instantly make the defenses take notice and they have to defend another threat. This makes the defense think twice about blitzing every passing down and it opens up many more lanes for Nicks and Manningham.

On the defensive side of the ball, there are a few things that should be done. Tuck is questionable and Osi is still out a few games. The Giants, once thought to be loaded at DE now are so thin that Dave Tollefson, no better than a backup and a one dimensional DE with some speed but no size, was elevated to starter. Justin Trattou who was out of football until he was signed by the Giants to their practice squad a few weeks ago and then signed to the team and activated, was the main backup. That is not quite the strength that the Giants need at DE. The solution is simple - slide Kiwanuka back to his position at DE.

The idea of moving Kiwanuka to LB made some sense at the beginning of the year. The logic was that (1) the Giants have enormous depth at DE and Kiwanuka would be a backup, not getting enough snaps. (2) Kiwanuka is a marvelous athlete and rather than having  him sit on the bench, move him to LB so the Giants can get their best athletes on the field, regardless of position. (3) The Giants did not have experience at LB, with 4 raw rookies and Sintim behind them who also had not played the position much. Now Goff went down, forcing Greg Jones into the starting position on Sunday and he did a very creditable job. Giants have 3 other rookie LBs and they should probably roll the dice and slide one of them into Kiwanuka's spot. The world did not collapse when Goff was replaced by Jones and it won't collapse when  Jacquian Williams, Scott Paysinger or Mark Herzlich replaces Kiwanuka at LB.

The real point is: Kiwanuka is an average LB but he is an outstanding DE. Tollefson and Trattou are below average NFL DEs. With the current lineup, the Giants have mediocrity (at best) at both positions; with Kiwanuka at DE, they at least have excellence at one position. There is no question that the lineup is better when Kiwanuka has his hand in the dirt at DE and player X is at LB. Even if Tuck and Osi come back, I would stick with this alignment and get the best production out of the players. The most important thing the coaching staff does is to put their players in the best position to succeed. For Kiwanuka, that is certainly DE and for the Giants, the young LBs are impressive, maybe the team finds a gem.

Finally, on the defensive side, Fewell has to learn how to blend his pass defenses and mix in some press coverage and man to man with his two deep zones. Perhaps he went to this because of all the injuries in the DB-field and his fear that the DBs would get burned deep too often, so he went to the safer zone coverage. Maybe that's logical, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. But even if it makes sense, you can't do it all the time. Any defense that the offense can get a read on and know exactly what is coming, will certainly be cut to pieces. More than that, there are times in the game, based on down and distance and time on the clock, where it just screams for a different approach.

I am referring here of course to the fateful 4th and 5 that the Redskins had at about the Giants 40. It was too close to punt and too far for a FG, so they elected to go for it on 4th down. Giants sat back in the same zone they had been playing much of the time and the CBs and LBs took a safe 10 yard drop, playing the QB's eyes and keeping the receivers in front of them. Grossman had probably the easiest completion of the day, hitting Santana Moss right at the sticks and letting him run forward for another 5 yards for an easy first down.  The defense had to get a stop right there, not prevent a long TD pass. Terrible coaching.

I don't think Fewell really gets the strategy of the game. Last year in the Eagles game when the Giants went up 21 pioints in the 4th quarter, sitting back in a zone and making the Eagles use clock would have been the appropriate defensive strategy, even if  the Eagles did score. Instead the Giants kept blitzing and the Eagles scored 3 TDs on long plays because of the Giants risky approach. On Sunday, when it was 4th and 5, it was appropriate for the Giants to attack, to blitz and to try to take away the short easy throw, even if they did get beat over the top. Coughlin ultimately has the responsibility for game management and he needs to manage the strategy better.

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