Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Cardinals game review

This was exactly the type of game that the Giants would have lost last year. They would have folded up like a cheap suit, would have had that "oh no, here it goes again, what's going to go wrong now" feeling wash over them. The defense would have given up another big play, the offense would have gotten tight and predictable and they would have walked off the field with their tails between their legs. Instead, we saw Gilbride come up with a few creative calls, we saw the pass defense come up with key plays, we saw the pass rush bother Kolb without having to resort to much blitzing and we saw players make plays. Mostly, we saw Nicks continue to emerge as a star in this league, maybe not at the level of Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant or Larry Fitzgerald, but he is a dangerous player developing some real chemistry with Eli.

Now that I have mentioned the QB, let me point out the obvious - he is playing perhaps the best football of his career. He is distributing the ball, throwing very accurately, making great decisions and taking care of the football. His composure in the clutch was on display against the Cards this week as it was in week 3 against the dream team from Philadelphia. His 4th quarter numbers this week: 14-17, 180 yards, 2 TDs and no turnovers.

Victor Cruz is stepping up and playing nicely. He is taking snaps away from Manningham, who played mostly in the the 3 WR sets. This might be the pattern for the rest of the season - Manningham has great natural talent but makes too many mistakes and deviates from the routes that Eli expects him to run. If he has a smaller package of plays to worry about, he may be able to run them with great conviction and contribute that way.

The OL is playing reasonably well, despite some of the sacks, pressures and the weak running game. The reason the running game is not doing well is mostly because of the poor blocking from the TE and FB positions. It's funny: Ballard is a 280 lb. TE with a reputation as someone who does not have the hands or speed to be a receiver, rather an excellent blocker because of his size. It seems to me that the opposite is true - he has proven to be a very good pass catcher, running good routes and not dropping a single pass, while his blocking has been weak. On Sunday, he had one play where he had to block down on the DE and he completely missed him. This is the easiest block for a TE - he comes from the side of the DE who usually does not see him coming and he just needs to seal him, does not need to pancake him. He completely whiffed on it. Pascoe's blocking  has also declined. Hynoski looks like he can catch the ball coming out of the backfield, but his run blocking has been mediocre. It is telling that the Giants best running plays are when they bring in Andrews as an extra TE and he leads the blocking, even though the defense knows what's coming. BTW - Beckum, who we all thought was going to be the pass catcher and not the blocker, has been blocking very well and not catching passes. I have not given up on him.

I am not as worried about the poor run defense as everyone else seems to be. This week, Wells ran for about 125 yards, but 40 of them came on one great play by the Cardinals, and they were running at under 4 yards per carry until that run. On that play, they ran to the weak side (at Osi), Osi was taking an inside rush, they easily hooked him and it was wide open. They also ran almost exclusively at Osi and his run defense has never been his strong suit. Obviously, Giants have to improve there, but I think the ability is there to do so. I have been whining about this all year, but I would play the young LBs more and move Kiwanuka back to DE, it would help the run defense a lot. This is especially a logical plan with Tuck still out.

Props once again to Gilbride for some very creative play calls. I loved the throw back across the field to Ballard, with Eli holding the ball and looking to the right side of the field before coming back to Ballard. I loved also the 3rd and short, when the Giants actually used some deception in the running game to make the yardage. On that play, Giants loaded up the right side as the strong side with extra TEs, with Andrews eligible, Ballard and Beckum right behind them in the slot. Instead of running Bradshaw on the little pitch to the strong side, which the Giants do all the time and the defense must have been expecting, they ran a counter back to the weak side, with Beckum running across the field behind the line to lead the blocking, making a good block and Bradshaw gaining 5 yards.

Nicks is becoming like Fitzgerald and like Burress used to be - even when they're not open, they're open. His ability to use his incredibly strong hands to take the ball away from defenders is impressive.

I hope we're not getting too pumped up about the Giants, because after all, the three wins have come against really weak teams:  Rams (0-4),  Eagles (1-3) and Cardinals (1-3).

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