Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Giants: Saints game - tape review

I did some further reviewing of the game tape... ok, so it's not really a tape, it's digital images stored on a hard disk inside my Digital Video Recorder... I know. But saying I reviewed the tape makes me feel like an old school football coach. Here's what I saw.

When the Saints ran effectively against the Giants in the first half, they ran right between the RDE and the RDT and here's what they did that made the simple play so successful. They double teamed the Giants LDT with the C and the RG. They double teamed the Giants RDT with the LT and the LG. That leaves Osi, Giants RDE unblocked by an OL-man. No problem for the Saints - they sent a WR or RB to block Osi and the Giants all pro RDE was completely taken out on every play. Osi is done - his run defense has regressed to pre-2010 levels and his pass rush is one dimensional and too easily blocked by good LTs.

I understand the Fewell approach that Kiwanuka is a good athlete and he can handle playing LB. I also understand that the Giants have rookie LBs and playing an experienced player like Kiwanuka will avoid mistakes. Of course, Kiwanuka is a natural DE and is still learning LB, so I am not sure how much more experienced he is as a LB than the rookies who have played that position through their entire college careers, but that may be besides the point. My point is that Fewell has to be aware of the personnel, the capability and the likely game plan of the opposing offense and adjust his personnel to a system that will work. Playing Kiwanuka at LB against the Saints is a total misfit and a total waste of his talent. Kiwanuka is decent as a LB when he can blitz and defend against the run. He is a little weaker playing in space, defending the TE and the RBs in pass coverage. However, he is totally useless against RBs as quick as Sproles and TE as fast and athletic as Graham. Kiwanuka is also not great at reading and playing screens and the Saints are a very good screen team, further undercutting his value. I'd rather have a fast LB play who has a chance against those guys than play a proud athlete like Kiwanuka who is out of position. Fewell is completely out of his element when it comes to these strategic moves. This week against the Packers, Kiwanuka will be similarly overmatched trying to guard the excellent TE Finley. Hope Fewell learns from the Saints game.

Giving the play calling helmet to Deon Grant is another bone headed move because it makes the Giants defense 100% predictable. If Grant is going to be on the field all the time, it advertises to the defense that Giants will be in nickel coverage all game long. When Saints run effectively, Giants don't have the bulk to stand up to it. Grant has clearly lost a step, so beyond giving away what defense Giants are playing, we have poor athletes on the field. Giants do very little in the way of disguising what they are doing or coming up with anything exotic to make the other QB hesitate. The QB is 100% certain that his pre-snap read is accurate as to what the Giants are playing. On the broadcast Monday night, Gruden showed different creative schemes that Saints were playing: zone on one side of the field, man on the other; reverse cover 2 - where the safeties at first show normal cover 2, then switch with the S coming up to play man and the CB dropping back into zone. Giants never do anything like that. They have two flavors - man with the Tampa 2, or zone coverage where all the DBs read the QB's eyes, and don't pay attention to the receivers coming into their zones.

Another example of Fewell playing the wrong man at the wrong position is putting JPP at DT. No doubt, this is also about getting the best athletes on the field, but there are two major things wrong with it. First, in the middle of the field, the lack of space, the scrum of holding, grabbing and pushing makes JPP just a body. It completely mitigates the special qualities he brings to the field on defense which are his athleticism and size. Secondly, JPP was a raw talent coming out of college. He had played very little organized football at South Florida and had very little experience in the technique of the game. He played sparingly as a rookie but this year has developed some of the good technique that a DE needs. With such little football experience, why do you think you can just plug him in to a new position at DT as if all the players were just interchangeable parts?

Just saw that Osi will be out 2-4 weeks and my assessment is that the defense will improve. Giants should play JPP at RDE full time. They should move Kiwanuka to DE to take some of the snaps that Osi took at DE and move Tuck inside to DT if they need some more bodies at that position. Giants should live or die with their young LBs and should sit Grant down on the bench.

Other things I saw on the tape were that Webster and Ross did not have good games at CB. Saints just looked a step quicker, a lot more organized and focused on what they had to do. Giants seemed hesitant, disorganized and unsure, giving away position and initiative to the Saints even if the players were of equal talent. 

Saints RBs are excellent. All can run, block and catch the ball. They run with an idea of where to go and with a purpose. None of the 3 Giants RBs would make the Saints, even Bradshaw.

I hate to keep saying this week after week, but Eli had a great game throwing the ball. Some of his throws were just outstanding and he had very few bad throws and decisions.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Giants: Saints game review IV

As crazy as it sounds, after reviewing the game again, I am not as discouraged as I was before. The last 31 minutes and 12 seconds of the game were a mess, that's for sure. And the Saints put up 49 points with nearly 600 yards of offense. But it's funny - 3 or 4 plays could have completely turned the game around. What would your feelings of the game have been if the following plays, all "make-able" ones went in the Giants favor. For full effect, I'll give the background and the context.

No score, first quarter, Eli throws a ball about 2 inches underthrown to TE Jake Ballard in the back of the end zone. Ballard gets his hands on the ball, but Saints LB pulls it out of his hands for an INT. If Ballard catches the ball, Giants are up 7-0. If he at least knocks the ball down and prevents an INT, Giants still have a chance to score a TD on later downs or at the very least kick a FG. Saints come down and score a TD and take a 7-0 lead.

Saints score a TD and go up 14-3 late in 2nd quarter. Giants have a 3rd and 10 at their own 20 which Eli converts on a pass to Cruz. Then they have 3rd and 6 at the 34 with 1:38 left, which Eli converts on a  sideline pass to Nicks. There is a personal foul for late hit tacked on, so Giants have the ball at the Saints 37 with 1:31 left. Here are the three plays that could have changed the game. Drop by Cruz on easy short pass. False start penalty on Diehl which was a bad call and should have been charged to Saints for drawing Giants into false start. Then Ware drops a screen pass on 2nd and 15 and on 3rd down Eli is rushed and has to throw the ball away. So, set up with first down on the Saints 37, Giants have 3 sloppy plays in a row and instead of going in for a score, they punt back to the Saints. Saints are backed up on their own 12, but hit one simple out pattern which goes for 50 because of a missed tackle by Corey Webster. Saints go in for a score and lead 21-3. Score could easily have been 14-10 Saints or even 17-14 Giants, but because of these few sloppy plays, Giants instead are down 21-3.

Beginning of the second half was even more painful. Giants take the opening kickoff and move downfield for a score and seemingly are almost back in the game down 21-10. On Saints possession, first pass Brees throws is right into the arms of Aaron Ross which he drops for what should have been an INT. Brees makes a few nice  plays and moves the Saints in for a 28-10 lead. Giants fumble on their possession and Saints score again, lead 35-10 and the game is now over.

Parenthetically, I can not understand how the fumble was not overturned. The ball came out when his arm hit the ground. The refs said that the ball moved in his hand, but there was no contact and the ground celarly was the only contact that caused the ball to pop out. Ridiculous call.

I don't want this to sound like an irrational fan saying Giants were unlucky and really outplayed the Saints. They did not and their defense was completely skewered. But I am just saying that even in a  rout like this where Saints amassed 577 yards of offense, Giants made enough plays to stay in the game. Giants had nearly 500 yards of offense and while some of it was in garbage time when the game was already decided, they were moving the ball all game long. You can't afford to play sloppy and make little mistakes against a dynamic, explosive team and the Giants did.

Giants: Saints game review III

I am not sure what to make of the defense. Rationalizing the poor performance, you could point to all the injuries that have compromised their personnel. They got virtually nothing out of the top end of the draft because their number 1 pick has played all of 2 games and their highly touted 2nd round pick is out for the season. They lost their top CB in Thomas, their starting MLB in Goff and several other good substitute DBs that weakened the personnel. They then had to go out and re-sign players that would probably not be in football otherwise: Grant, Coe and Martin among others that were already dropped and were forced into giving some of them significant playing time. Even there, some of these substitutes got injured and Giants were additionally limited on defense.

In addition to that, they built a defense that was totally predicated on big DL production and with Tuck and Ueminyora slowed by injury, they are not getting dominance from their DL. The one LB that was playing well, Boley is now also out and that really opens up some holes in the defense.

But that is on the rationalization front - the fact is that the Giants have drafted some very talented LBs, fast and athletic, and they have not done a good enough job coaching them so that this late in the season - they are still making weak rookie mistakes. By contrast, the Eagles came into the season overhyped but with real weaknesses at LB and S. Their players are not great, but they have improved to the point where they can play well and they certainly played well against the Giants last week. The Eagles defensive coaching also has some weaknesses, but they did get these LBs more ready to play and I don't see as much improvement from the Giants young LBs. Every play they make is purely because of athletic skill and not because of coaching and positioning. 

You could look at it two ways: it's hard to judge the quality of the coaching because of all the injuries and patchwork lineup. For example, Giants are stuck playing nickel defense virtually all the time now that Boley is out, using Deon Grant on the field because they don't want to play the rookie LBs. That approach would seem to absolve the coaches. However you could look at it another way and say that the players can't be judged because the coaching has been so bad.  It's probably a little of both - the coaches had a rough go because of the injuries, but they opted to go for a very conservative predictable approach and did not coach the players well to get them ready for the game, which clearly falls on their side of the ledger. Coaches saw weaknesses in pass coverage at LB and in the DB-field, so they elected to play very conservative, not blitz at all and load up the backfield with more pass coverage. Not smart strategy - when you are great, you can play conservative, but when you are weak is exactly the time to gamble and roll the dice.

I will say this - now that Osi is out, I expect the defense to get a little better. JPP will then be shifted back to his natural DE position where he can be more productive. JPP made some mistakes on contain last night, but is still better against the run than Osi and Osi has not exactly been lighting it up with his pass rush lately. . Kiwanuka should be moved to DE and the Giants should live or die with their young LBs. I'd rather have Kiwanuka as a good DE than a mediocre LB. You don't win by being not-awful at all positions. Rather, you win by being superior at several positions. Take a risk on the young LBs. Giants may not have a great defense with them at LB, but they certainly will improve with Kiwanuka at DE.

Giants: Saints game review II

Looking at the two teams, the difference is so patently obvious: the Saints have way more speed on offense than the Giants do and are much more talented athletically. The Giants don't have a single player on offense like the Saints TE Graham, a player that just doesn't seem like he can be defended. I like the Giants WRs - Nicks is very talented. Manningham and Cruz are both dangerous and productive, but none of them has that aura of invincibility about them. None of them can just blow by a DB and be more or less guaranteed to get open every time they are not double covered. And most of all, none of them are a real threat to take a simple out pattern, beat the DB to the corner and go for 40. They all rely on running excellent pass routes and having a perfect read, throw and timing from the QB to be productive.

Saints don't have a single player on offense (possibly including OL-men) that are as slow as Jake Ballard and Giants have three other players in their regular offensive rotation that are just as slow - Jacobs, Pascoe and Hynoski. Speed kills on offense and Giants just don't have it. The great season that Eli has been having has been masking in great measure the average nature of the Giants skill position players. Individually they have some very good skill position players, but when you trot out 3 players on offense who started last night's game: Pascoe, Ballard and Jacobs, that the defense simply does not have to worry about getting behind it, it makes it too hard to make plays on offense. The defense can cover those 3 with virtually any player on the defense - LB, CB, S or even a DL-man, if he gets matched up in some exotic zone blitz package, making it further difficult to move on offense because of the deception and disguise that the defense can then use. If the defense blows the coverage on one of these players and lets him get open, there is no worry that they can't be run down in the open field. It's not about denigrating the Giants good skill position players, but it's about having over all team speed that threatens the defense.

An offense can probably manage with one slow skill position player, if he's real smart, can get open, never drops the ball, is a good blocker and brings other intangibles to the team. Maybe you can afford one player like that on offense, but you can't manage 3 or 4. And - the slow skill position players that the Giants have don't show all of the other attributes I mentioned. They do seem to be smart players, I will give them that. But they don't catch every ball and will occasionally drop some easy ones. They are not great blockers, in fact Pascoe and Hynoski are below average blockers, with Ballard only adequate; and they don't bring any of those intangibles, the sizzle and the swagger that can help the team.

I have realized this for the last several weeks, since Bradshaw went down, but watching the Saints last night and the wealth of talent, skill and speed they have on offense just brought it home more. The announcers were giving love to Brees all night and he certainly did play well. But his weapons are so far superior to Eli's and his offensive coaching and play calling is so creative compared to Gilbride, that the difference in the two teams has almost nothing to do with the QBs. Have the QBs switch teams last night and the rout would have been just as bad. Even the one INT Eli threw in the first half was a catchable ball by Ballard. Eli may have underthrown it a hair, but Ballard got his hands on it and at least should have prevented the INT.

Giants: Saints game review initial thoughts

Ugh. Game just ended about an hour ago, so I am just giving my first reactions, without having reviewed the game carefully.

Obviously, the defense was completely overmatched. It's not just that the Saints put up a lot of offense, it's that the Giants seemed completely unable to keep up with them at all. Saints had much more team speed than the Giants defense and that's on the players being not athletic enough. But there were way too many mental mistakes, inability to line up properly and getting fooled on every Saints wrinkle. There were way too many long plays (20 yds +) and the Saints moved down the field and scored way too easily. It didn't help that the Giants offense didn't get into the end zone in the first half, but that's no excuse for the defense. The speed thing and getting beat athletically is the players shortcoming. But not getting the plays in on time, being entirely predictable on defense, not disguising anything so the offense knew exactly what they were going against, being disorganized, not lining up properly, not protecting the middle of the field - that's entirely on the coaches.

The 3-safety look is supposed to be a change of pace, a switch to confuse the offense occasionally. but when you give the wired helmet to Deon Grant and he's responsible for calling the plays and lining everyone up, it is advertising and declaring that you will run the 3-S look virtually the entire game. So not only did the pass rush not get there and make Brees uncomfortable, there was not disguise or surprise in the defense; Brees knew exactly what to expect. Maybe the players aren't god enough, but they are being exposed and compromised by the coaches not putting them in the best position to be productive.

Deon Grant has lost it. If you put the ball in his hands like Brady did a few weeks ago, he may catch it. But he can't play pass coverage, and he can't tackle. This is the second time he was 1-on-1 in the open field with a ball carrier and he completely whiffed on the tackle resulting in a TD. The first time was Fred Jackson on the Bills, but at least he is a RB. Last night, Brees beat him right up the middle. 

On offense - the first time the Giants moved down the field, Eli threw the INT in the end zone, (which Ballard should have made a play on and caught or at least prevented the INT) and that was the only time they got close in the first half.

Way too many sloppy/mental mistakes on offense - too many dropped passes, two fumbles, and Nicks stepping out of bounds twice when he had lots of green in front of him.

I don't know what was up with that faked punt. Not a great try.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Giants: Saints game preview

Under normal circumstances, based on personnel and match ups, I would say that the Giants have a chance in this game. Saints have a strong offense, especially at home. Their OL is good, their QB is superior and their offensive skill position players are dangerous. However, their running game is good but not great and their TE, Graham, is making lots of catches, leading all TEs in receptions, in fact, but is not a real deep threat. Defending the outside receivers has been a decent part of the Giants defense this year. The weakness has been in the middle of the field and the Saints TE will be a big challenge for the Giants defense. Of course, their WRs can run crossing routes in the middle of the field as well, like everyone has been doing against Giants defense, but that is not their particular strength. At some point, the Giants DL will make a reappearance and at some point the Giants will figure out how to defend the soft medium depth middle zone even with Boley out of the game. Herzlich has been praised by Coughlin as someone who is a quick study and does not make the same mistakes twice. Let's see if he can pick up his pass defense this week, because the Giants really need it. I think Herzlich showed ability - speed and strength - but was caught in rookie assignment mistakes on several pass plays. Prince Amukamara played well last week, especially considering that it was his first snaps in a game. The Saints pass the ball very well, especially in their dome and a good game from the Prince would be timely help.

On defense, the Saints do not have a big pass rush or a particularly strong overall defense. They are weak both against the pass and against the run. I think the Giants should be able to move the ball against the Saints, presuming the OL actually makes it out onto the field this week (they clearly did not show up against the Eagles last week).

So with all that, if the Giants DL and OL makes a reappearance this week, I would say that the Giants have a chance. But their season has been so choppy, I just don't know which Giants team will show up. Will we see the Giants that played such a strong defensive game and gave a gritty effort against the Patriots on the road three weeks ago? Or will we see the Giants that showed up last week against the Eagles with such a weak effort. Hard to say, but there is a lot riding on this game - 1st place in the NFC East, playoff chances, coaching staff's jobs. Not to mention - erasing the bitter taste of last two weeks losses and removing the reputation that the team has of second half chokes. If that's not motivation, I don't know what is.

Giants have announced that they will move Diehl out to LT and slide Boothe into his position at LG. This is the smart move, but it could indicate that Beatty will be out for a while.

At this point in the season, after 10 games it's probably about time that Gilbride realized that the running game is not going to be a big weapon for the Giants this year. As my son pointed out to me in an email earlier this week, the Giants are 4th best in the league in yards per attempt in the passing game and second worst in the league in yards per carry in the running game. That strongly argues that the Giants should pass first to soften the defense and then run to keep the ball. The statistics I quoted about yards per pass attempt and yards per carry need a little more analysis and I will do that in a  post early next week (I promise - I've already started working on it). But for now, I am concentrating on the Saints and the murky playoff picture. The Cowboys pulled out two very close games the last two weeks. These were games they could have easily lost, both of which were won on FGs kicked by them as the last play of the game. Cowboys have a very good offense but a vulnerable defense. They are not an unbeatable team; the Giants have to win some games so that they are in position to make the Cowboys games matter to them when they play them. 

On defense, I am almost willing to give Fewell a little pass. They have had so many injuries and have so many players playing out of position - JPP shifted to DT; Kiwanuka shifted to LB; rookie LBs pushed into the starting lineup; absence of LBs leading to more 3-S look with Grant as a quasi-LB; Rolle pushed up as a slot defender in absence of CBs. But still - they should play better than they have last few games. I would shift JPP back to DE, where he is a natural and can use his athletic ability in a little more space. To get some more players to log the snaps at DT, I would activate Kennedy, play Rocky Bernard a little more and even give Tuck some snaps at DT. Giants are desperate for a pass rush and they have not been getting it with JPP at DT.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giants: More injuries

The hits just keep on comin'. Michael Coe was a backup to a backup in training camp and would not have made the team but for injuries to 3 or 4 other DBs ahead of him on the depth chart. He did have speed but no cover skills or much game experience. But he was coached up well by DB coach Peter Giunta during the year and was actually improving his technique. You may recall he defended a few passes nicely in the Patriots game, including one slant right at the goal line intended for Chand Ochocinco. He was also a decent ST player. Of course, the other night he tore up his shoulder, requried surgery and is done for the year.

Will Beatty who has had a decent but not a spectacular year at LT had some back problems which held him out of practice last week, but did not miss any game time. However, now has been found to have a detached retina and needed emergency surgery. The emergency part is not unusual for detached retinas - if you delay, it can result in partial or total loss of vision. The question is - what is the recovery time and how long will he be out. My understanding is that it depends greatly on how severe the tear was and exactly what surgery was required to be performed. The recovery time could be as short as 2 weeks, but as long as 6-8.

In the short term, Giants have two apparent choices - they could slide Diehl back out from G to LT and move Boothe in at LG. Boothe has been a solid backup this year in the interior line and that is a reasonable thing to do, especially because the transition for Diehl back to G has not been great; he has not been having a great year. An alternative would be to leave Diehl at G and slide Stacey Andrews in at LT. Andrews has not really impressed me and I am not sure the Giants should do this. Diehl gets a bonus if he plays LT, but I am sure the Giants would make a decision on what is best for the team and not on the basis of avoiding bonus payment.

Decision may depend on what the estimate is for Beatty to be out. If he is gone for the season, they may move Diehl out to LT. But if he will be out only 2 weeks, Giants may decide that continuity is best and they should leave Diehl in at his G position so there are fewer changes to be made. Of course, if Andrews can't handle the LT assignment at all, they should move Diehl out there regardless of Beatty expected return. Boothe is not a natural LT, so they can't move him out there. Andrews took a few snaps in the Eagles game for MacKenzie at RT and on his first play he allowed a sack. He has played as an extra TE without great distinction this year.

Giants: players or coaches?

Coming into the Eagles game I said that one of the keys was for the Giants DL to contain the Eagles running game without having to resort to extraordinary measures to do so - without having to sell out to stop the run and compromise the pass defense. But the DL also needed to generate a pass rush because sitting back in a zone, the Eagles would be able to attack the middle of the field, with crossing routes to the WRs and occasional passes to the TE.

The Giants really did neither particularly well. Thye did stop the run, but they were very often in their 3-S look, dropping a S to the line of scrimmage. Giants were effective at stopping the run, mostly with the DL and LBs, but the extra S down in the box doesn't make a lot of sense to me. If you're playing the run, you'd rather have a bigger body than a S in there. If you're playing the pass, you'd rather have a 3rd CB on the field who is a better pass defender, especially at this point in S Grant's career. The 3-S alignment was a smart change last year. It caught the opposing offense off guard and Grant was playing very well against the pass. With Ross hurt much of last year, this kept the best 5 DBs on the field. But - the league has adjusted to it by now and Grant has lost a step in pass defense, notwithstanding the one INT he has against Brady and the Pats, so this defense has lost its aura. Still OK for a change once in a while, but Fewell calls it all the time and it's not really effective anymore. But the big failure of the defense and the DL was the lack of a pass rush. I don't just mean no sacks.... I mean absolutely no pressure at all. Sacks can be a slightly misleading stat for a defense. If you get 3 sacks in a game but allow ample opportunity for the QB to throw on all his other pass attempts, you have not done well as a defense disrupting the passing game. On the other hand, if the pocket closes at some point and the QB has to get rid of the ball early on most of his throws, the defense has done better regardless of the actual number of sacks they get. In this game the Giants did neither - they got neither pressure nor sacks. And when I say they got no pressure, I don't even mean that they needed to force him to get rid of the ball in 3 seconds or less. I mean he was standing back there as long as he wanted, released the ball and even then was not hit. Official statistics were: 1 sack, 1 hit, 0 hurries. That's pathetic, especially when so much of the defensive philosophy is based on the pass rush.

Fewell had apparently decided that Young was too hard to catch and that he did not throw the ball well or make good decisions in the pocket. Consequently, the plan was not to blitz much, not to come after him with a wide pass rush which might give him lanes to escape, but rather bull rush very conservatively, drop guys into coverage and flood the zones, hoping he would make a mistake. I don't think that is a terrible plan, but when, after 3 quarters, you saw it wasn't working, Fewell should have dialed up a different plan to try to generate some pressure on the QB. I said this in my first blog post on this game - wondering why Young wasn't blitzed at all, since the Giants blitzed Vick often in previous games. Apparently many Giants players felt the same way. Take a look at what I copy/pasted below from today's NY Post:

Defense doesn’t turn up heat
Three prominent defense players — Antrel Rolle, Chris Canty and Justin Tuck — independently made sure to mention the coaching staff when assessing what went down against the Eagles. Tom Coughlin labeled the inept running game as “pathetic,’’ and he also could have included the lame defensive pressure. How is it possible that the Giants had one sack and only one quarterback hit (both from Jason Pierre-Paul) on Vince Young?
“They’re doing some things giving us some challenges, we have to be able to match up to that and adjust to that,’’ Canty said. “That falls on both players and coaches.’’
Tuck added, “Sometimes I think we over-think things.’’
This was one of those times. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell used four and at times only three-man fronts to get to Young, with no success. There were very few attempts to bring pressure and give Young different looks, which was a mistake, considering he had thrown one pass all season and most likely could have been confused, if only the Giants tried to confuse him.
“We certainly did not upset his rhythm at all,’’ Coughlin said. “He was able to sit there.’’
Asked if the problem was physical or scheme related, Coughlin said “Some of both.’’

I said in my last post that I hate it when the coaches blame every loss on execution by the players. That's saying: our game plan was perfect, if only the darned players had done what we told them, we would have won. That's not building unity between players and coaches; in fact quite the opposite - it is creating a big brick wall between them, where the players don't think the coaches have their backs. Take a look at the quote from the Post above and you'll see this sentiment expressed by the player's words. I think Coughlin is a good football man and a good football coach, but he has some weaknesses and this is one of them. He's a little too old school and his philosophy  - coaches should never be questioned and players should just do what they tell them - is outdated. That's just not how it works anymore.

It's hard to fathom, but I think Fewell's performance has elevated Gilbride (relatively, anyway) so that he is no longer the worst coordinator on the team. Fewell is simply in over his head. He may come up with a good game plan and strategy, but he does not react and change up based on what the opposing offense may be doing or how the game is flowing. 

Giants - Eagles review III - coaching

There is one significant reason why the Giants have weakened in the second half of the season over the last several years - poor coaching. Coaches for the Giants as well as for every team, come into the season with a new or modified strategy and structure for their respective units. As the season wears on and opposing coaches compile film on what the strategy and structure of the team is, what plays they call, when they call them, what the personnel capabilities are, they start to fill out a profile of what each team does. For lack of a better term, the other teams figure you out. You may have had the best offensive or defensive schemes coming into the season, but after about half the season, all the other teams in the league adjust and understand how to stop you. They adjust or tweak their offense/defense to combat yours.

Giants coaches, however, are less able to devise a strategy and figure out what the other teams are doing. But most of all, they are not able to readjust to how opposing teams have adjusted to stop the Giants. It's obvious. And it's sad, really. The coaches aren't complete baboons and are in fact fairly competent coaches. They just don't have the spark of creativity and imagination that it takes to counter opponents adjusting to you.

Jimminy Cricket - if I hear one more time from the coaches that the reason the Giants lost to the Eagles is all about the players and the lack of intensity I am going to scream. It is a complete copout and rationalization from the coaches to blame every loss on execution by the players. It's like what Casey Stengel used to say about his early, awful NY Mets teams: I manage good, but boy do they play bad. The coaches, when they blame everything on exe3cution and nothing on the game plan are saying that their game plan was perfect, was brilliant and would have worked if only the stupid players would have carried out. i maintain that players lack of execution is on the coaches (at least partly) for not preparing the players adequately and not putting them in optimal positions to succeed.

I am starting to see some subtle rumblings that while the players like Fewell personally, respect him and feel that he prepares them fairly well for the next opponent, they think his mid-game adjustments are weak.There was an anonymous, somewhat indirect, interntioanlly-kept-under-the-radar quote from a Giants defensive player that the players felt Fewell didn't adjust against the Eagles which would have given the Giants a chance to get at the QB.There was a quote in the Serby column in the Tuesday NY Post that brought this reference without attribution.

It's hard to imagine, but Gilbride has reached the point where he's not the worst coordinator on the team, Fewell is. He just hasn't coached the players effectively at how to play a zone and this has gone on for 2 years. .

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Giants - Eagles game review - II

You know the old adage: you're never as bad as you seem when you play poorly and never as good as you seem when you're playing great. So maybe the Giants aren't quite as bad as they looked against the Eagles last Sunday night, but I remain down on their prospects for the season. It is still a puzzle to me how they could have looked so awful against a 3-6 Eagles team and so good just 3 weeks before when they beat an excellent Patriots team. It just doesn't make sense unless you throw in the adage at the top of this post, which says "you're never as bad...."

But I think there's more to it than that and my friend and fellow Giants analyst Ray, may have had the simplest and best explanation for it. Giants have an average array of talent on this team - not great, not terrible. They clearly have some areas of strength and definitely have some flaws. That average-talent-team was propelled early beyond its actual status by extraordinary performance by the QB who has improved his accuracy, his decision making and is playing the best football of his career. A slightly softer early schedule helped also, but the Giants have not had a running game all year or a great defensive performance all year, so I am giving 80% of the credit where it belongs, to Eli. His superlative performance, especially in the 4th quarter may have masked the fact that the Giants are an average team.

Looking back again at the Eagles game, I spent the last post largely talking about how the OL got beat up by the Eagles DL, but in reality, the Giants DL did not do much better. Giants DL did a very good job stopping the run all night, holding McCoy down. But they got absolutely no pass rush, not even a little pressure and Young had all day to find an open receiver. Sometimes it comes down to one match-up and one position on the OL/DL battle and I think it did this week. When the DL has one position that dominates its opposite number, the OL has to change its blocking assignments, give help to the over-matched party and it gives free reign and better match-ups for the other players on the DL to get after the QB. Going back a generation, when LT was roaming at LB for the Giants, opposing offenses had to assign a 2nd or 3rd blocker to account for him and everyone else on the DL had a favorable match-up. If they could beat their man, there was no other help from the OL to stop them. Leonard Marshall, an effective but certainly not spectacular DE, made the pro bowl a few times playing along side of LT. After his pro bowls on the Giants elevated his status, he signed a good FA contract with the Jets, but was out of football in 2 years without LT attracting the attention of  the opposing OL to make space for him. BUT the converse is also true - when an OL-man completely dominates the DL-man opposite him and can do it without any help at all, it frees up the other players on the OL to give help liberally to other OL players and plug any gaps that may exist. This is one of the things that happened Sunday night - Jason Peters was so completely dominant over Osi (and Tuck when he lined up there) that the Eagles could ignore that match-up and give help liberally elsewhere. Eagles had 4 against 3 at the other positions and when a TE or RB chipped or stayed in to help, they were 5 against 3 and did not have to sweat the Giants pass rush. The fact that the Giants were conscious of Young's escapability and rushed very conservatively, only staying in their lanes and rarely blitzing, gave Young even more time in the pocket. I don't udnerstand why Fewell didn't blitz like he did when Vick was back there, but Giants had absolutely no pass rush.

Now some good news: Amukamara looked very good. He was often stride for stride with his man and showed good make up speed on the INT, where he was beaten at first by Jackson but came back for the INT on a slightly underthrown ball. I was at the game, so I only heard the announcers now say that Amukamara was beaten and got very lucky on a badly underthrown ball. But I think they overstate the case, because the ball was about 60-65 yards in the air. How far can Young or any QB throw the ball? Amukamara came back and made a great catch on the ball. Other times when his man was not targeted by the pass, his coverage was excellent, something you would only see if you were at the game.

Herzlich got confused a few times on pass coverage, taking the short guy instead of the proper deep drop in his zone, but at other times his drops were perfect and he made several very good plays in the running game.

The problems the LBs have shown in defending the middle on crossing routes when playing a zone is a repeat problem. I am putting more of this on the coaching staff than on the players. Giants have not learned how to play zone defense in the entire Fewell reign.

Osi is great when the opposing LT stinks and awful when the opposing LT is decent. Kiwanuka is the most consistent and best Giants front 7 defensive player. When he is playing LB and has pass coverage responsibility against a WR (like he did on Smith TD) he is overmatched and should spend more of his time at DE.  I would sit Osi, play Kiwanuka at DE and hope that the young LBs can figure it out.

By the way - Osi and Kiwanuka both have contracts that expire at the end of 2012. Assuming the Giants can not give a big extension to both players (Tuck is also up soon) I know where I would spend my money: Kiwanuka, and it's not even close. Trade Osi at the end of 2011 for as much as you can get in the draft, extend Kiwanuka and go from there.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Giants - Eagles game review

I'll give you some facts of a hypothetical game between two random NFL teams. Game was tied in the 4th quarter and the victorious team scored the winning TD with 2:45 left in the game after an improbable drive where they converted 6 third downs in a row. ( Note: Here's why I say it's improbable - Eagles have converted 44% of their 3rd downs this year. With a 44% success rate, the probability of converting six in a row is about .7%, 7/10 of 1%) Back to the hypothetical game - after scoring that go ahead TD with 2:45 left, the losing team drove down the field, got the ball to the opponent's 21 yard line was in position to tie the game when they fumbled with just over a minute left. You would say that this hypothetical game was close, hard fought, evenly matched, and either team could have won the game.

You could say that, but you would be wrong about this Eagles-Giants game. Eagles completely dominated the game and the Giants were close only because of some bad turnovers by the Eagles and a stupid taunting penalty by DeSean Jackson which took about 50 yards of offense off the board for the Eagles. Giants OL was completely dominated at the line of scrimmage on nearly every play. It's hard to fathom that, and I hope you catch the significance of what I am emphasizing. Usually when you talk about one team dominating at the line of scrimmage, there are a good number of plays that they completely break down the blocking, a number where the opponent's kind of play at a standstill and several where the offense actually gets the better of the defense. Not last night - there were a mere handful of plays that the Giants offense was able to run successfully because the OL did its job successfully and a few others where the OL kind of held the Eagles DL at a standstill, without really moving them out. But these plays were at an extreme minimum and for the most part of the game, on nearly every play, some Eagle DL-man beat cleanly and badly some OL-man on the Giants to completely destroy the play. Even on the Giants TD "drive" (can hardly call it a drive, it was really just two big plays) the successful plays were improvised when Eli was flushed out of the pocket because the blocking broke down. Eli managed to get away from the rush and signaled to the WRs, Nicks on one play and Cruz on the other to modify their route and go deep. It was like street ball - even the good plays were ugly. Of course the running game was even more ridiculous: 29 yards rushing. Eagles LBs were running down hill at the Giants all night. Even when the OL engaged the Eagles DL-men, there was a LB filling the gap, because the Giants OL was never able to get to the second level, occupied as they were by the Eagles DL. Pascoe and Ballard got thrown around trying to block LBs, so they didn't help much either. Of course with Jacobs running the ball, who hits those fast opening and closing holes at glacier like speeds, it's also hard for the running game to be successful. Of course, when you're getting hammered like that at the line of scrimmage, it doesn't help when you have 5 or 6 easy dropped passes on plays that had a chance to work. But that's not the point - Giants were controlled entirely by the Eagles defense at the line of scrimmage. I am concentrating on the OL here, but the DL was not much better; more about the defense in another post.

The best part of Jacobs game is his pass blocking and chip blocking. Unfortunately, he is not a 3rd TE who is there for a little extra pass protection. He is a starting RB, who complains about not getting the playing time. He looks completely done to me. Apparently after the game, he made some idiotic comments denigrating the Giants fans saying something like: all they know how to do is boo. A message from the fans to Brandon: if you paid a PSL fee and 100+ face value per ticket and saw incompetence and lack of passion like we saw from the Giants last night, you would boo also.

Maybe we're overrating the players - I kept saying that I saw talent on the OL and that the reason it was not getting a running game going is because of lack of cohesiveness and communication. Therefore when they had some more game experience they would be better. That has not happened. Giants have run the ball ineffectively the entire year, so I may have been overrating the OL.

The DL has not gotten a consistent pass rush the last few games, and last night it was completely invisible. JPP seems to have hit a sophomore wall, Tuck has been invisible and Osi has been a non-factor, despite what his sack total may be.

Having said that, while there may be some personnel weaknesses, the particularly annoying / disturbing thing is that there have been some consistent failures by the team, some repeated weak spots which have not gotten better all year, in fact for the last two years. While I may have overrated the personnel and that may be an  issue, I think this points more towards a coaching weakness. Giants DB-field has not learned how to play a zone defense under Fewell. The middle of the field has been picked on by opposing offenses, with WR crossing routes, and TE throws with complete freedom. Running QBs continue to hamper the Giants defense. When there is a consistent and predictable failure and when the players have shown athletic ability in other circumstances, you have to say that the problem might be with coaching. The coaches are simply not teaching the players well enough. 

BTW - the DeSean Jackson taunting play brings up a ridiculous rule and the NFL has to change it. If the Giants had not gotten called for a holding penalty, the taunting would have been considered a dead ball foul and would not have nullified the play. Instead, the 15 yard penalty would have been assessed after the play, making it essentially a 35 yard pass play instead of 50. But because the Giants were guilty of a hold, the taunting penalty and  the defensive holding penalties were deemed to be offsetting and cancelled each other  out putting the ball back at the 3. Giants benefited  by committing a defensive penalty.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Giants-Eagles game 2 = the season

I hate to be so dramatic, but the more you think about it the more you realize that the whole Giants season revolves around this game tomorrow.

My good friend Ray, long time friend, confidante and fellow Giants analyst made a really great observation about tomorrow's game. The game smells, feels and tastes a lot like the second Cowboys game last year. To refresh your memory: Giants beat the Cowboys on the road earlier in the season, just like this year when they beat the Eagles on the road in game 3. Cowboys record was way below what was expected, just like the Eagles this year. Cowboys had their starting QB Romo out because of injury, just like the Eagles have Vick missing in tomorrow's game. Giants were heavily favored in that game (by 14 points if I remember correctly), were flying high and looking ahead to playoff positioning, just like they are now. The game was even at about the same time of the season as this one - week 10 vs. week 11 this year. I don't have to remind you of the nasty outcome: Giants had a terrible game, Eli threw a pick 6 on the goal line, the Giants lost 33-20 and their season really started to spiral downward right then. The season finally unraveled in the horrible Eagles loss in week 15 with the DeSean Jackson walk off punt return, but the undoing began with the loss to the Cowboys.

With all these similarities, you have to worry about the outcome of this game and the affect on the rest of the season. Giants win and they at least maintain their 1 game lead over the Cowboys with 6 games left. Lose and they are tied with the Cowboys, facing a tougher schedule and with momentum working in the wrong direction for both teams. With tough games against the Saints and Packers coming up next 2 weeks, Giants have to win every game they possibly can and can't afford to give away games that they are favored in to stay in post season positioning. With Cowboys easy schedule down the stretch, if you assume the worst, that the Giants lose some ground to the Cowboys, they at least have to stay within 1 game of them so the 2 games against the 'Boys in the last 4 weeks of the season will be meaningful. Beating the Eagles tomorrow is critical to all of these goals.

The worries remain:
Running QBs have hurt Giants defense this year
Young Giants LBs have been exploited this year and Reid / Mornhinweg are very good at drawing up a game plan that attacks the opposition weakness. They are not as good at managing the game in-stream, but pregame strategy they do well
Tuck injured, slowed, playing mediocre by his own admission bodes poorly for stopping the run, which Giants will surely see a lot of tomorrow.
Eagles have the players (good TE, great RB) to attack Giants weakness on defense

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Giants-Eagles: Injury update

Eagles: Vick out. Maclin out.

Giants: Bradshaw out. Boley 99% out.

Looks like Amukamara will make his long awaited debut tomorrow. Also looks like Herzlich has moved up the LB depth chart and will get some playing time on defense, not just on ST.Giants remain high and hopeful on their rookie LBs, Greg Jones and Jacquian Williams but they have made mistakes that have cost the Giants big time. The thing they like about Herzlich is that he has a high football IQ and doesn't make repeat mistakes. The only quesstion is if he has recovered his game day speed and power. He has played well on ST, which is all about speed, so let's see what he can do taking snaps on defense.

With Maclin out, Steve Smith will probably move up the depth chart and get more playing time than he otherwise would have.

Expect to see a heavy dose of McCoy running the ball. But with Boley out, Giants will probably show a lot of their 3-S look with Phillips, Rolle and Grant. That has been vulnerable to a power running game, so we'll see how they do tomorrow. Like I've been saying, Giants need a big game from their DL to stop Eagles offense, which still has to be considered dangerous.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Giants - Eagles: Injuries and strategy

While the Giants beat the Eagles in the first game on the road, and the Eagles are now beat up, missing their dangerous (sic) QB Michael Vick, you still have to be concerned about this game.

1. McCoy is the best RB in football and without their starting QB, you would expect the Eagles to give the Giants a heavy dose of running. While Giants did well last week stopping Gore, McCoy will be more successful and Giants are near the bottom of the league in run defense.
2. With Young (probably) getting his first start, Reid will not put too much on his plate and will attack the Giants with safe, sure, short passes and easy reads. The Eagles have the personnel to do this with TE Celek and with Avant, who is replacing injured Maclin and is good in that role. Giants LBs are weakened with Boley out and 49ers were successful attacking the middle of the field last week.
3. Giants have been vulnerable last several weeks to running QBs. Matt Moore and Alex Smith both had success against the Giants running. Vince Young is an excellent runner and could hurt the Giants defense with his legs.
4. While the Giants did win the first match up, it was, if you recall, largely on the strength of a few goal line stops and one 4th and 1 stop near midfield. Aside form those defensive plays, the Eagles moved the ball very well against the Giants defense.
5. Eagles are getting their S back from injury who was out for a while and it could shore up the middle of their defense.
6. Eagles have been playing more man-to-man lately and are getting away from so much zone. This new man-to-man preference plays to the strength of their CBs. Eli has to watch out for Samuel, who seems to read him well and has intercepted him a few times.
7. Suddenly, the Giants injury list, which had been shrinking, has gotten longer again. Tuck and LT Beatty are having some injury difficulties and this could be a problem. Giants have an advantage against the Eagles at the line of scrimmage and these injuries could minimize the edge.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Giants: Eagles coming up - odds and ends

Giants fans were crazed about the loss of Steve Smith to the Eagles in FA this off season as well as loss of Kevin Boss to the Raiders. I don't think the Giants handled the situation properly with Boss or Smith. They should have either made them an offer to sign them or let them go, but not make an offer and leave it hanging out there until some other team matched it. Decide if you want them or not and what salary you want to pay, but don't let it hanging out there for weeks. But - there seems little doubt now that Reese made the right decision about letting the players go. Boss has been replaced by Ballard who appears to be a better player, or at least as productive for about 1/5 the salary. Steve Smith was thought to be not ready by the Giants and their team doctors for the start of the season and that he would not be ready until midseason at best. Eagles signed him, activated him and he has been in the lineup since week 1. But apparently the Giants were right in their assessment, he has not been physically ready and he has caught only 10 passes the entire year. Maybe he's ready now and he'll have a breakout game this week or soon. Last week a particular heaping of indignity was piled on him - in the 4th qtr, with the score tied at 14, Eagles had a 3rd and 20 at their own 20. Vick hit Smith over the middle about 18 yards down the field and Smith could have turned up field easily for another 2 yards and the first down. Instead, he just flopped down where he caught it, making it appear that he didn't want to fight and wanted to avoid a hit by the DB. Fans really hated that and booed him loudly. Maybe he's a double agent, planted by the Giants.

There is a really interesting website called which analyzes football statistics in very interesting ways.  Take a look at this TeamDefensiveStatistics which seems to indicate that the Eagles are best team in the league at playing pass defense against TEs and are among the worst in the league at pass defense against RBs. With relatively small sample sizes these may be a little misleading, but if they are indicative, it means that Ballard may have a tough go in the middle, while Ware and Jacobs may be assets in the passing game. Recall that in the first game against the Eagles, Jacobs caught a 40 yard TD pass on a wheel route over the Eagles LBs.It also seems to show that the Giants defense against the TE is better than the league average, so maybe they will be able to handle Celek. Without Boley, however, I still think it is an area of exposure for the Giants

This web site also seems to calculate that the Giants OL is the 8th best in protecting the QB as measured by a statistic they call allowed sack rate.

Giants: Look ahead to the Eagles

On the surface, the Giants should be in the driver's seat for this game against the Eagles. As support, we can bring the following data:
1. Giants beat the Eagles already on the road in week 3 and now get the Eagles at home
2. Vick, the QB that treated the Giants like dogs in last year's embarrassing 4th quarter meltdown in the Meadowlands has two cracked ribs and realistically is unlikely to play. If he does play, at the very least, he will be hampered by those ribs which seemed to affect his accuracy last week when he played through it. He looked awful against the Cardinals playing hurt (16-34-128-0 TD-2 INT for a QB rating of 32.4)
3. DeSean Jackson is back from his punishment but is still unhappy about his contract status. Maclin, who is the Eagles leading receiver is injured and looks like he will not play.

Those are some superficial facts that would seem to support the idea that the Giants will win. But there's something about this Eagles team that makes you nervous. They lost the last two weeks, with their offense looking really bad against the Bears and the Cardinals. But the week before that, they absolutely destroyed the Cowboys 34-7. What I deduce from those results is that while they are inconsistent, they do have some great team speed on offense and some dangerous play makers that can turn the game around on offense. A look at their offensive statistics supports that idea. They are the third ranked offense in football as measured by yards gained, best in rushing yards per game and near the top in passing. However they also lead the league in turnovers, with a league worst 21. Turning the ball over often undermines your offensive progress, of course, but there is a lot of luck involved in those turnovers. It also strongly suggests that if the Eagles play a tighter game and don't turn it over, they could be difficult to handle. Look at it this way: the Eagles have rushed the ball 265 times this year and passed it 318 times for a total of 583 plays from scrimmage. They turned the ball over 21 times, or 3.6% of their plays. By contrast, the Giants have run 566 plays and turned it over only 10 times, for a turnover percentage that is twice as good at only 1.76% of their offensive plays. While that difference might seem impressive, the fact remains that it is still a very small fraction of the total plays that are run and can not be counted on to turn the tide each and every game. My point is that if Eagles don't turn it over they could be tough. In general, be wary of teams that have very high or low turnover numbers. The Bills might be an example of a team that did very well early in the year, but whose status was inflated by lots of early takeaways on defense. You can't count on those turnovers and when they disappeared, the Bills regressed. The converse is also true - if Eagles don't turn it over their offense could shine.

If I were the Eagles, my game plan would be to attack the Giants with their running game and the Giants LB with their passing game. McCoy is the best offensive player  on the Eagles; Eagles lead the league in rushing and Giants are 20th in the league in rushing defense, so this seems like an obvious approach. But with Boley out and with the Giants LBs inexperienced, the Eagles should attack them in the passing game. They are well equipped to do it, because their TE Celek is a good pass catcher and the Eagles are a very good screen team which also plays to the strengthens of McCoy. Giants are likely to play more zone than usual, because playing man-to-man often gives running QBs lanes to run against DBs that have their backs turned to the QB. Vick is a great runner at QB but even if he doesn't play, likely replacement Vince Young is a much better runner than passer. If the Giants are forced into more zones, it also exposes the LBs to defend the middle of the field and this could be a challenge for them. The Giants LBs are young and talented, but they are mistake prone and blow assignments occasionally. I expect that this experience will be good for them in the long run, but at this point in their development it could be dicey.

Consequently, the Giants need a big game from their DL, primarily to stop the Eagles running game so the Giants LBs don't have to sell out to stop the run. Of course, a good game by the DL also puts pressure on the QB to cover up the exposure the Giants may have with their LBs in the passing game in the middle of the field. It seems like we say this every week, but with McCoy a key weapon of the Eagles, it is certainly true. Last week, the DL and LBs did a good job stopping the run of the 49ers, but were exposed in the passing game in the middle of the field. Smith completed nothing deep to the outside - everything was inside and over the middle against the Giants LBs. Eagles OL has not been very good this year, notwithstanding the offense's lofty standings in NFL team rankings and they are further hurting with some injuries there. Giants DL has to take advantage of this.

When Giants have the ball on offense, they should be able to move the ball against the Eagles. Eagles LBs are not good in pass coverage and Giants should use DJ Ware to attack them. Eagles have two excellent cover CBs in Samuel and FA prize acquisition Asomugha. I can't figure out why they are not playing better this year on defense, but certainly some of it has to do with weak help from the S position. Eagles should try to attack these safeties and try to find Ballard and Cruz this week in the middle of the field to attack the LB and S positions.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Giants - 49ers review II

Giants defense just has to get better. The 49ers have an average offense with an average QB and they made Alex Smith look like Joe Montana. Well, maybe not that good, but they didn't dominate him. The Giants young LBs are talented, athletic and fast. But they're, well, young. They are inexperienced and get caught out of position a lot. Think back to how many pass plays from the 49ers were crossing routes over the middle, apparently attempting to exploit the Giants LBs. When Boley went out, Giants defense suffered. I can't blame them - that would be now the second starting LB out of the game, including Goff who is gone for the season.

49ers looked better organized than the Giants; more sharply coached and focused. Coughlin, and all coaches, talk about turnovers as the keys to the game. Throw in the onside kick recovery as what could be considered a turnover as well. A turnover reverses possession and field position. That is exactly what the on side kick recovery did. Despite Coughlin's going ballistic on the sidelines after the recovery, I blame that play on the coaches. You can't just say afterwards - we told them to watch out for that, or we practiced that during the week, you have to recognize when it might come and really prepare your team for it.

I can't let a post go from this game without commenting, yet again at how well Eli is throwing the ball. His first INT was underthrown, but very few other balls were off target and every game he makes 3 or 4 throws that make you sit there, stare at the TV and just say "wow". This game, there was the 4th and 6 to Manningham, the TD to Nicks, another out pattern to Manningham, and the TD to Manningham. They were just perfect throws that only the very best QBs in the league could make. So many other of the Giants completions came when the Giants WRs had just a hair width of separation and Eli threw into a narrow window to make the connection.

Even though there are some good things to take from this game, it was really a bad loss because of the schedule the Giants have remaining. Cowboys have a cakewalk of a schedule the rest of the way. Next three weeks they get Redskins, Dolphins and Cardinals, while the Giants get the Eagles, Packers and Saints. Giants could easily go 1-2 over those 3 games and in worst case lose all 3. (Eagles are wounded, but they still have some big time play makers.) Cowboys, the way they are playing will certainly sweep. So when the Giants have a chance to win a game, they have  to close the deal.

I am still ticked off at the draw play call to DJ Ware at the end of the game. It's not that the play never works, it's just that Manning was hot and I'd rather give him 2 chances to win the game than just 1. It's all about probability.

Brandon Jacobs looks really slow and lumbering. When he gets running down hill, he's fine. It's just that it takes him too long to get it in gear. I would be giving DJ Ware more carries, especially until Bradshaw gets back.

I keep saying the Giants defense has the ingredients, the raw personnel to be a really strong defense. I say that, but here we are staring at week 11 and we still haven't seen a shut down defensive performance. Webster is having a really good season at CB. I still want to see Prince Amukamara on the field. Coughlin may have to relent and activate him this week because of the potential injury to Aaron Ross.

On to play Philadelphia

Giants - 49ers game review - first impressions

I haven't reviewed the game and no doubt when I do, I will have some better analysis of what took place, but for now I'd like to post my initial gut feel of the game.

I thought the Giants should go into the game to try to make it a passing game, take an early lead and make it a QB duel.  Apparently Gilbride disagreed and wanted to rely on the traditional balanced attack that he and Coughlin favor.  The Giants did attempt 43 pass plays (two scrambles by Eli + a sack by the 49ers in addition to the 40 passes that came out of Eli's hand)  and they ran the ball only 27 times. But it seems like they threw a lot in the 4th qtr when they were down by two scores and up until that point it was close to a balanced pass-run ratio. Regardless of the actual statistics, the Giants should have been aggressive when they were in the red zone on their first half drives and instead took a conservative approach, running on 1st and 2nd downs.

Giants needed to avoid giving the 49ers field position advantage on ST and on turnovers and they failed on both counts. Weatherford who has been punting well all year and hit a few great clutch punts last week against the Patriots when the Giants were backed up on their side of the field, Matt-Dodged a punt yesterday when the Giants needed a good one. Ahead by 13-12, Weatherford shanked a 29 yard punt which gave the 49ers the ball at midfield. One missed assignment on defense and the 49ers were ahead.

Another key field position loss that the Giants gave up were the punt coverage penalties. They were absolute killers and I wouldn't be surprised if Martin is looking for a new team by the end of  this week.  He might be saved by the fact that the Giants are so shorthanded at CB, with Ross potentially hurt now.

Statistically the Giants controlled the game - more yards, more time of possession - but statistics are for losers. One reason the Giants had more yards and TOP is that the 49ers got good field position twice in the 2nd half, scored quickly and did not compile a lot of yards or clock on those two TDs. The yards and TOP do indicate that the Giants could move the ball against the 49ers defense, but they lost the game nonetheless.

Giants lost the game on these few plays:
1. failure to score TD on either of the long first half FG drives. I blame Gilbride for over-conservative play calling at the goal line
2. missed defensive assignment leaving Vernon Davis unguarded in a man-to-man defense. It may have been S Rolle or rookie LB Greg Jones who blew the assignment, but it happened right after Bolley left the game with an injury. Bolley is the signal caller, gets everybody lined up and makes sure everyone knows their assignment
3. the second INT by Eli, which somehow should go in Manningham's column, because he decided to stop running his route, inexplicably, after Eli had released the ball. 49ers got the ball on 17 and scored on first play.
4. Poor play call by Gilbride on 3rd and 2 when Giants were at the 10 yard line trying to score the tying TD at the end of the game. A draw to Ware out of shotgun formation was too conservative. It went nowhere, 49ers knocked down Eli's 4th down throw and the game was over. Eli is the best player on the team, I want the ball in his hands at the key moments of the game.

More analysis later this week when I have watched the game again. (Ugh. I dread doing that)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Giants - 49ers Preview: Saturday night odds and ends

Superficially, the match up on defense looks very challenging for the Giants. The Giants defense against the run has been poor this year and the 49ers running game is their strength on offense. However, it's not as bad as it seems, IMO. First of all, the Giants defense seems to be getting a little better as the season is moving along. Second, the teams that have run best against the Giants are the ones that have spread their offense out, gotten the Giants in nickel coverage, fooled the young/light LBs and gashed the Giants for a few long runs in each game. It's almost more encouraging for the Giants to have totally blown one or two plays in each game than to have given 5-6 yards on every play. While Frank Gore does have some speed and can make a long run, he is more of a power back and the 49ers are not a spread-the-field offense. Giants DL is pretty good against the run, especially with Tuck back and starting to play a little better. The hope here is that the LBs will play better also with the experience they have gained over the first half of the season and Giants will at least make a representative effort against the 49ers running game.

Manningham hurt his knee, apparently in practice this week and has been added to the injury report. It looks like Nicks is coming back and with Barden able and ready, Giants should still have enough weapons for Eli to throw to. Barden only made two catches against the Patriots in his 2011 debut, but he looked very good to me - big and powerful for a WR - and he ran his routes very smoothly.

I might have Webster keeping an eye on TE Vernon Davis, who might be the 49ers biggest down field threat and is a physically bigger target than Crabtree. Webster has great size and can battle him.

Giants need a big game from their front 7 to stop the running game and from their OL to counter the strong 49ers front 7. If they do they will be able to make a game out of it. If Osi is not handling the run well, Giants should not be afraid to get Kiwanuka up front and replace him with another LB.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A look ahead to the 49ers

The stretch of five very tough games on the Giants schedule from week 9 through week 13 consists of: Patriots, 49ers (road), Eagles (home), Packers (home) and Saints on the road. After that, the Giants last 4 games have 3 divisional games, with the Redskins at home, the Cowboys twice, in addition to the Jets.

In this current 5 game stretch, everyone was predicting gloom for the Giants and a fall from the grace of an early season soft schedule. Giants did not play well in winning some of those early games, which correctly contributed to the assessment that they were really a mediocre team propped up by the strength of those weak first half opponents. This fall from grace may yet happen - we don't really know how good the Giants are yet. However, of these five games, all the experts thought that the Patriots in New England was as close to an unwinnable game for the Giants as possible. Now the Giants have won that game and go on the road to San Francisco. In retrospect, the Giants did just enough on defense to hold the Patriots in check and did just enough on offense against a weak Patriots defense to win the game. Patriots may not be the powerhouse team that everyone assumes them to be and the win may not be as sparkling as it appeared.

The 49ers, at least on paper, present an interesting and perhaps more difficult challenge. While the Patriots have a much more potent offensive team, they have a weak defense and I thought the Giants would be able to score against them. The 49ers have a very good defensive team. They are first in the NFL against the run in terms of total yards allowed, yards per attempt and a number of other metrics. Giants have not been running the ball well against anybody this year, so it doesn't figure to get any better against the 49ers. Up in Foxboro,  the Giants could go into the game knowing that they could rely on their passing game against the poor Patriots pass defense. The thing that could be tough for the Giants this week, however is that the 49ers pass defense is not bad either. At least statistically they are almost as good as the Giants. The web site has team defensive statistics and I decided to download these team stats and calculated each teams QB-rating-against statistic. In other words, like the on-base-percentage-against is a measure for pitchers in baseball, the QB-rating-against tells you what the QB rating of opposing QBs is against the defense. Interestingly, the Giants and 49ers are ranked right behind each other, with Giants 5th in the league with a QBRA of 82.7 and the 49ers are 6th in the league with a QBRA of 84.0. To show that the statistic has some validity, the Jets, with their all-world corner Darrelle Revis and their excellent coverage secondary are best in the league with this QBRA at 63.

Based on this, the 49ers don't have an apparent weakness in the secondary that the Giants could exploit. Nevertheless, I think it would benefit the Giants to get into a high scoring shootout with the 49ers, because the Giants have more and better offensive weapons at the receiver position and, more important, they certainly have a more talented QB. If ever there was a week where the Giants should throw first and use success in the passing game to set up the run, this is it. Scoring early and taking a lead will be very useful against the 49ers. Giants have to stop the run and force the 49ers to pass, something, it should be noted, that no team has been successful doing this year.

If it comes down to a  passing / QB duel, I like the Giants chances. Giants should do everything they can in their game plan to make it that way. 49ers have great runner in Gore and running game to make their offense go. Giants have to stop that and make them pass. Easier said than done: Giants have not stopped run well this year. They started to show some signs last week, let's see if it continues. I see Kiwanuka getting a lot of playing time this week at LB instead of the lighter Jacquian Williams to counter the 49er running game. I would also use Osi less than usual for the same reason - because of his so-so performance against the run.

On the offensive side of the ball for the Giants, they have to handle a 49ers defense that plays a 3-4 with 2 very good inside LBs. To counter that, Giants should use a lot of 3-WR looks and throw to take the 49ers defense out of their base comfort zone. Then, if they run, they should try to go between the tackles rather than outside, because it can be hard to run outside against that 3-4 defense.

Speaking of statistics, if you want to analyze how good a team's pass rush is and how well they get after the QB, the simple approach is to look at the number of team sacks. However, this statistic can be misleading because a team that has a great offense and is often ahead in the game, forces the opposing offense to pass more often, and in fact to pass deep, which can lead to more sacks. The statistic should at least be normalized to the number of pass attempts by the opposing offense. Giants are leading the league in total sacks with 28 and the 49ers are not far behind, 11th in the league with 22 total sacks. However, the 49ers have a good run defense and have been leading in most of their games, forcing the opponent to pass more often. If you divide sacks by total attempts, you will find that the 49ers have a .068 sacks-per-attempt rating, which is 17th, the lower half of the league. The Giants, on the other hand lead the league in total sacks and are essentially tied for first in the league (with Redskins and Ravens) at .098 sacks-per-attempt. In plain English, that essentially means that every Giants opponent's pass attempt has a 10% chance of ending in a sack. 49ers are nearly 1/3 less likely to get to the QB. This only adds to the logic of getting into a passing duel with the 49ers.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

NFL TV Announcers

I am not one to pay particular attention to the broadcasters and worry about whether they are dissing my team, giving them their props, showing bias one way or the other, or anything like that. I don't get terribly amped up about it, but I must admit that I do get mildly annoyed and amused listening to their prejudged positions and opinions. In the long run, it really can affect the success of your team, because stars and good teams get coddled and protected by the refs. In the final analysis stars and celebrities are, by definition, made in the media. So, I guess I would have to say that I care a little and that it may even matter a little. One of the reasons I enjoy going to the games is that I don't have to listen to the announcers. When I watch the replay of the game on DVR, I always fast forward through the dead time between plays and go from tackle to snap, so I also avoid listening to their prejudiced opinions. With that introduction, let me present to you a few interesting examples from Sunday's game where the opinions of the announcers played into their call of the game:

When Eli got called for a delay of game at the goal line right before the INT, Aikman railed about how that was inexcusable clock management by Eli. He has to be aware of the play clock and never let something like that happen. He should have called a timeout right there and not incur the 5 yard penalty for his team. (Aside - wonder what they would have done at the goal line at the end of the game with one less timeout, but that's not the point.) Shortly after that, Eli threw the INT in the end zone and Aikman and Buck both came back to the fact that the delay of game penalty contributed to the INT, because it affected the play call at the goal line. However, when Brady had gotten called for a delay of game penalty earlier in the 3rd quarter, Aikman simply said that Brady expected them to reset the game clock. There was an injury timeout right before the play and that messed up Brady's timing and expectation of the play clock, or so said Aikman. I guess only Eli should have seen the play clock, not Brady. Furthermore, there was no mention that the delay of game on Brady may have affected the subsequent play calls, which it definitely did. To remind you, Patriots had a 3rd and 10 instead of 3rd and 5, Brady had to hold the ball longer and it allowed Boley to get to Brady and force a fumble which led to Giants TD.

When Eli threw his INT in the end zone, Aikman and especially Buck went off on Eli about how he always throws off his back foot when he is under a rush, which leads to all his INTs, his inaccurate throws and his inconsistent play. (He has fewer INTs than Brady this year).  However when Brady threw his two INTs it was more about luck in one case (LBs tipped the ball allowing the INT) and about good position by the S on the other throw. Aikman begrudgingly mentioned that Brady tried to fit the throw into a narrow window in the seam. He usually makes that throw, but this one he shouldn't have thrown. It's on him, said Aikman. There was so much rationalization, qualification and explanation that you almost thought that it wasn't an INT at all. Or maybe he was blaming Eli for Brady's INTs also.  Further facts are that Eli's INT was not that bad a throw. It was slightly underthrown perhaps, but was not thrown into double coverage, was not a bad decision and in fact the WR was wide open. It required another DB to fall off his man and make a great play on the ball to get the pick, but you didn't hear any of that from the announcers. By contrast, both of Brady's INTs were the result of poor throws and poor decisions. On the INT by Kiwanuka, he should never have thrown the ball to the middle of the field without lifting it over the LBs who were taking their drops into pass coverage. That is passing 101. On the INT by Grant, the TE was perfectly covered and Brady's decision was terrible to go there with the ball. If he did throw it to the TE, he should have thrown it high so the TE would have had a chance to use his height to get it. Poor decision and poor throw, but you barely heard anything from Aikman or Buck.

Later in the game, on the Giants final winning TD drive, you heard more from Aikman about how two of the incomplete passes that Eli threw were thrown off his back foot, should never have been thrown and should have been intercepted. One was the long sideline throw to Cruz that went out of bounds. It was a slightly risky throw, but I believe Eli had confidence in Cruz that either he would catch it or he would make sure it wasn't picked off. It fell harmlessly out of bounds, even though the Patriots DB was nearby. The really amusing piece was Aikman's expert analysis of the pass to Cruz that resulted in the PI putting the ball on the goal line. Ex-Cowboy Aikman said that he had no idea where Eli was throwing that ball and that if he put it in the right place, it would have been intercepted; Giants were lucky to get the PI call. Here's the amusing part - in the post game press conference, Eli explained that he called an audible at the line of scrimmage changing the pass routes on that play. It was noisy in the building and he realized that not all the WRs got the route adjustment and the play was messed up. Therefore Eli intentionally threw the ball away, just getting it in the general vicinity of Cruz on the slim possibility that Cruz could make a great catch or the Giants could get a break on a penalty, which is exactly what happened. So it turns out that rather than being stupid and making a bad decision by throwing the ball where he did as Aikman said, Eli was particularly cerebral about the game situation, game management and this scripted throw away and was rewarded with the PI penalty for his brilliance.

Finally, when the Patriots scored to go ahead with 1:36 left in the game, you heard Buck throw down the "Eli called himself elite" gauntlet. First Buck said - it was ridiculous to hold him to it, I mean what else is he going to say in response to this (stupid) question on some talk radio show. Then, after calling it ridiculous, he said "but if Eli thinks he is an elite QB in Brady's class, here's his chance to prove it by leading the Giants down the field." He was metpahorically slapping Eli in the face with a white glove. He was challenging Eli by saying in efect: OK, big biy, you're sucha  big talker, let's see you deliver. Of course, after Eli delivered, you didn't hear Buck come back and say - Eli really showed us that he is an elite QB.

The announcers are not stupid, they are hopelessly locked into their prejudged positions and they rarely let the facts get in the way of their opinions.

Patriots game - odds and ends

Similarities to the Super Bowl

Aside from the fact that the Giants were playing the Patriots, there were several other interesting (dare I say striking) similarities between the game against the Patriots this past week and the one in the desert after the 2007 season. Consider:
  • Eli had to lead two scoring drives in 4th quarter, each giving the Giants the lead from behind.
  • Eli passed for two TDs and accumulated 150 yards through the air in the 4th quarter of both games (you have to add in the two PI penalties Sunday to get to 150, but morally, they should be Eli's passing yards)
  • Both games had a 30 yard (or so) pass in the middle of the field to an improbable target wearing number 85 to set up the winning score
  • Both winning TD passes were scored in the left corner of the end zone.
  • In both games, the resident genius coach of the Patriots, Bellichick, acquitted himself poorly and with absolutely no class. In the Super Bowl he sneaked off the field before the game was officially over. This past Sunday, in the post game news conference, he was whining about the two PI calls that went against the Patriots, instead of showing some class and giving some credit to the opposing victorious team. 
  • Giants defense smacked around old Tom Brady pretty good in both games.
  • Oh, wait - one more thing - Giants won both games.
Refs calls

Speaking of PI penalties, the Patriots got away with two egregious offensive PI penalties that were not called on their receivers. One was on Ochocinco, where he blatantly shoved the DB (Webster, I think) with both hands, and pushed him so hard that the DB fell down. That missed call didn't hurt much, because Ochocinco was the intended target and he never catches any balls these days anyway. But the other offensive PI was on the TD with 1:36 left caught by Gronkowski. It probably wasn't called because it was a little more subtle than the other one by Ochocinco and LB Boley didn't actually fall down on the play. The other reason it wasn't called is because the game was played in Gillette Stadium, Bellichick works the refs hard and gets the favor of lots of home town calls. Did you see the holding call they made on MacKenzie in the first half? It was not a hold, there was no call, no flag thrown by the ref but then Bellichick went crazy, animatedly starts yelling at the refs to call a hold, the fans in the stadium saw him gesturing and starting yelling for a call too. Then and only then, several seconds after the play was over, one of the refs was intimidated into throwing a flag. Ridiculous. Back to the PI non-call on Gronkowski - Boley was right on him and by pushing off, Gronkowski gained an enormous advantage and got open to catch the ball.


Michael Coe made some nice plays in the DB-field, particularly on 3rd down against Ochocinco near the goal line, forcing a Patriots FG. Giants have very good position coaches, especially in the DB-field - Merritt and Giunta.

DJ Ware played well and made some nice moves. I am not saying he is as good as Bradshaw, but the Giants can survive with him back there. I still want to see Da'rel Scott get into the game. I understand why the Giants coaches may be hesitant - a big part of the RB's responsibility nowadays is not just knowing where to run, but includes blitz pickup on passing plays. The Giants RBs, Jacobs and Bradshaw are both superior blockers and great at picking up the blitz. Did you see some of the chip blocks Jacobs threw before running out of the backfield on pass routes? On one play he absolutely flattened the Patriots DE Carter, with barely any effort, just a bump from his shoulder and then breezily ran down field. So, the coaches have to make sure Scott has his blitz pickup assignments down, because we don't want to get out QB killed. Other than that, I'd like to see him get some plays.

More Patriots review III

Did you notice that the Patriots came out with the clear intention to run the ball down the Giants throat. Their first several formations and plays that they ran off of those formations had 9 men tight at the line of scrimmage in addition to the QB and RB in the backfield. Giants shifted their defense and also had 8 or 9 guys at the line of scrimmage. The run defense was pretty good for the Giants on Sunday and it will have to be better against the 49ers this week, because Gore is an excellent runner and the 49ers move their offense on the ground.

JPP took a lot of snaps at DT on Sunday and did reasonably well. The idea was probably to get more pass rushers on the field in the base 4-3 defense, and moving JPP to DT allowed Osi to stay on the field at DE. I thought Osi did not have a very good game on Sunday. He used his wide speed pass rush nearly every time against Light and there were too many times where Light simply gave him a little nudge to push his path wide away from the pocket. Brady likes to step up in the pocket, so this is a very easy and comfortable technique for Light and the Patriots to blunt Osi's rush. The few times where Osi tried to fake outside and go inside, he was easily turned back. If they wanted to keep JPP on the field at DT, Kiwanuka might have been a better choice to play DE. However, Kiwanuka had such a strong game at LB, that they wanted to keep him there.

Speaking of Kiwanuka and Osi - Giants will have an interesting decision to make on these players. Both have two years left on their current deal, with contracts that expire after the 2012 season. Kiwanuka has showed that he has recovered from his neck problem and is playing the best football of his career. He is a more all-around player than Osi and is several years younger, meaning he has more runway left in his career. If it comes down to a salary cap crunch and they can only keep one of them, I would throw the money at Kiwanuka and extend his contract at the end of this year. To avoid another Osi hissy fit and to get some value from him instead of just letting him walk, I would trade him at the end of 2011 to a team that needs a pass rusher and would be interested in extending his contract. Giants saw that they could not get a number 1 pick for him last year, when he had 2 years left on his deal. This year, the team that trades for him is getting only 1 year of play, so they certainly would not get a number 1, even though he has showed that his knee is sound.

Against the Patriots, the Giants were in their nickel package nearly the entire game trying to defend the pass oriented Patriots offense. Grant was on the field a lot and they shifted how they used him. Instead of him playing deep with coverage responsibilities that emphasize speed (he seems to have slowed down since last year) they played him down low in the box and he had TE coverage assignment, something he is still fast enough to handle. He got his INT covering a TE and also knocked away a 3rd down pass to the end zone, right before Brady threw the TD to Hernandez that put them temporarily in the lead.

Despite being in the nickel, Giants did a fairly good job against the run, as I said earlier. Part of this was that they kept Kiwanuka on the field more in the nickel packages instead of the much lighter Jacquian Williams. Kiwanuka had a great game. Williams and Greg Jones still got some playing time and made some nice plays. Williams was the one that recovered Brady's fumble that Boley stripped. Boley also had a great game and has been very solid all year. I would not be surprised to see Kiwanuka on the field at LB often against the 49ers to counteract their running game. Biggest passing weapon 49ers have is their TE Vernon Davis. We'll see how Fewell defends him.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How good are the Giants really?

I have to say that it's still hard to tell how good the Giants are. Even though this was a great win for the Giants against the "elite" Patriots, I wonder just how good the Patriots really are. I don't believe they are really an elite team anymore. They certainly have the QB and the coach, but there are some obvious flaws on the Patriots and I think they were considered elite and ranked high on everybody's NFL power ranking more on reputation than on substance.

Consider that the defense is ranked last in the NFL. I have always been a proponent of the fact that football statistics are the most misleading of any sport and defensive statistics are the most misleading statistics of all those in football. However, when you're dead last in overall defense, dead last in pass defense, don't get turnovers from the other team, you're not good. You may not actually be the worst defense in football, but you're certainly down there near the bottom.

On offense, they have a passer with a great resume in Brady, a good OL and a really great weapon in Wes Welker. They have two very good TEs, but they have some limitations on offense as well. They do not have any speed on the outside or a true vertical threat in the passing game. Their RB is a solid runner, but not really a break away threat. On many teams, that would not be a problem by itself, but it adds to  the lack of a true home run threat on the offensive side of the ball. The league's defenses seem to be catching on to this and in the last few weeks, rather than playing a soft zone to prevent getting beat deep, they are playing much more physical, man-to-man trying to challenge those short passes and daring the Patriots to try and throw deep. Welker and those TEs are so good that they still make some yardage, but they are not as dangerous as they once were.

This was a good win for the Giants, it doesn't undermine the fact that Patriots never lose at home and the Giants did beat them in Foxboro. But I would not be surprised to see the Patriots slip a little bit and lose some of their tougher games in the coming weeks. Therefore, the win is not as telling as it would appear to be. The Patriots have a really interesting test coming up against the Jets this week. It seems to me that the Jets match up fairly well against the Patriots on defense. The best part of the Jets defense is coverage in the DB-field and that is where the Patriots try to win on offense. Interesting game.

Patriots game review - II - the Hidden plays

In most football game there are several big plays that you can easily identify as game changers or game deciders. Sunday's game against the Patriots was no different - aside from the scoring plays themselves, you can point to the seam route to Ballard on 3rd and 10 in the final drive, the INT off of Eli in the end zone, the fumble by Ross on special teams, and a few others. But there are often a few quiet, unnoticed plays that set up the big plays, or perhaps better said, create the stage and circumstance to make the big plays important. For lack of a better term, I'll call them the hidden plays in the game and I'll highlight a few from Sunday's game against the Patriots.

1. Delay of game by Patriots. Patriots had 2nd and 10 on their own 16 early in the 3rd quarter with Giants ahead 3-0. Patriots got called for a delay of game which made it 2nd and 15. On 2nd down, Patriots ran a draw play for 5 yards bringing up a 3rd and 10. There's no guarantee what would have happened on 2nd and 10 without that penalty, but the 5 yard penalty kept the 3rd down a 3rd and long play. That meant that Brady had to hold the ball longer and let his WRs get down field, instead of hitting a short 3rd and 5, where he could have thrown something quick to Welker. Brady held the ball and Boley came on a blitz around his blind side, forced the fumble which led to Giants first TD.

2a. Tackle by Patriots DB Adams at goal line on Ramses Barden. It is always good to stop the offense from scoring, so this play seems kind of silly to include, but here goes. Giants had a 1st and 10 on the Patriots 17 a few plays after the Grant INT of Brady. Eli threw a perfect out pattern to Barden, who made a good move to the sideline, turned up field, stretched and nearly got the ball into the end zone. Adams, the DB who was beaten on the play, hung in and made a TD saving tackle at the 2. With 1st and goal at the 2, the offense's chances to score are very high, so it didn't seem like much at the time. But every time the offense has to run another play, there's a chance they'll make a mistake. Eli threw the INT a few plays later.

2b. Clayton did not keep his feet in bounds at back of end zone. On that same drive, in fact, on the very next play, Eli threw a perfect pass to Clayton, on a really good play call by Gilbride. Clayton caught it but failed to keep his feet in bounds and the TD was taken away, meaning Giants had to run some more plays to score. Interestingly, Clayton is a good blocker and Giants usually run out of formations when Clayton comes on the field as WR, so it really deceived the Patriots and Clayton was wide open. Not keeping his feet in bounds meant that Giants had to run another play which also helped set up the INT.

2c. Delay of game penalty at the goal line on next play. This is obvious: 2nd and 7 affects the play calls and is much harder to make than 2nd and 2. When Patriots blitzed, Eli had to hold the ball longer to let Manningham get open and that contributed to setting the stage for the INT, a play that didn't need to happen if any of these three hidden plays had gone the Giants way.

3. Eli incomplete pass at the goal line. You might not have realized this at the time, and might not even remember the play, but it was a critical play in the game. Giants just got the PI on Victor Cruz which placed the ball at the 1 with 30 seconds left in the game. The first down call was a play fake to Jacobs and a pass, probably intended for Manningham who was running in the back of the end zone. Patriots called an all out blitz, with nobody on the Giants picking up the LB who made penetration right up the middle. Eli turned around after completing the play fake and saw the LB bearing down on him. A sack there really messes up the Giants chances. They would then have had to call their last timeout immediately and would have therefore had to take 2 shots at the end zone from the 10 - not a sure thing. Instead of allowing the sack, Eli sprinted to his left, got away from the LB and threw across his body to Ballard who nearly caught what was a catchable ball. Incomplete pass - yes. But - no sack, no INT, still had a timeout left. After a run to Jacobs, Giants still had a timeout to use and were on the 1/2 yard line. With no timeouts left a pass was the best call, but because they were so close, the running play was at least theoretically possible. Therefore, the Patriots LB bit on the play fake on 3rd down which gave Ballard a chance to get open. Even Coughlin said that Eli's evading the blitzer and throwing an incomplete pass on 1st down was the biggest play of the game.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A look back at the Patriots game

Wow. Let me correct myself on that last comment: WOW!!!

This was one of the best regular season victories in recent memory. We'll see how this season plays out, but right now it sure seems to stamp the Giants as a team that could make things interesting this year. We all know that the Giants early part of their schedule was very soft and they are now beginning the varsity part of the schedule. As a result, few people were giving the Giants props for their 5-2 record against the weaker opponents. The most reasonable evaluation is to wait and see how they do against the elite teams in this four week period, where the Giants get the Patriots, 49ers, Eagles and Saints. Patriots were number 3 or 4 on all the  NFL power rankings, so this was a statement win. While I certainly agree that this was a huge win, and it's always fun to beat the condescending, holier-than-thou Patriots, we probably have to consider how good the Patriots really are, before we judge how good this win makes the Giants look. More on that in another post later this week, but for now, on to the game itself.

Jake Ballard had a spectacular game and has been having a great season. He has made several big plays, none bigger than the seam route on the winning TD drive yesterday. Anybody still ticked off that the Giants lost Kevin Boss in free agency? I liked Boss, and he might be a little quicker than Ballard, but he's not that much quicker and Ballard certainly has better hands, rarely dropping anything. Ballard is a very heady player, always in the right place, always making the right reads and adjustments and he is really big making himslef a good target in the red zone.

Even though everyone is throwing roses at Eli for his play in yesterday's win, in my opinion, Eli had a much, much better game yesterday than anyone gave him credit for. Without Nicks as a deep threat, the Patriots played much more man-to-man than they usually do and the Giants WRs were not getting a lot of separation. The completions nearly all had to be placed in a very narrow window. On several of the completions, the WR had to change his route because he didn't beat the defender on the primary route, but he kept running to eventually give Eli a little opening to throw the ball. Eli's decision making has been good, his accuracy has been good and his ball placement has been superb. It's not just that he's hitting the WRs, and leading them so that he's hitting them in stride. He's also placing the ball perfectly - high to Ballard on the seam route; low and away from the defender on one of the Cruz connection. Even on the incomplete pass to Cruz on the 3rd and goal, he placed it perfectly where only Cruz could catch it. He showed his perfect touch on one of the sideline throws to Cruz, where he had to lift the ball a few inches over the LB's hands and drop it down to Cruz in front of the DB.

On Eli's INT, I thought he underthrew the ball slightly, but it was not a bad decision or a terrible throw. Manningham had his man beat and the guy guarding Pascoe, who was running an underneath route was giving him a big cushion and was several yards behind him. As a result, he was closer to Manningham, running in the back of the end zone than Eli expected him to be. This short defender was able to come off his man and make the pick. Even so, it required a great catch, over his head, on his fingertips. In terms of risk/reward, it was a good decision to throw the ball. It required a perfect play by the DB to get it and if he didn't it would hvae been a TD. It's not like he threw into triple coverage.

After the INT, Coughlin was showing his emotions and annoyance on the sidelines and it was really misplaced. I wanted to go out there and smack him. If we got mad at Burress and Shockey for showing up their QB when they were on the Giants, why should we tolerate that behavior from the head coach. The reason the Giants won the game yesterday is that Eli's steady hand and composure spreads to the team and inspires them to be calm and confident at these moments. Coughlin's ridiculous gesturing undermines that.

I loved what Cruz said after the game. He was direct and to the point. He said, when we got in the huddle with 1:30 left in the game, Eli looked everybody in the eye and said: everyone stay calm, we're going to score now and win this game. He didn't say it yelling; he wasn't breathing fire; he wasn't pointing fingers. He wasn't the NFL QB out of central casting. He was who he always is - easy Eli. I am happy he's on our team.

Eli's TD pass to Manningham was a thing of beauty. Perfect throw, perfect touch, perfect timing. If it's thrown a second later, Manningham doesn't have time to get his feet down. A second earlier and Manningham doesn't clear the DB.

Giants OL did reasonably well, providing decent protection in the passing game and opening up enough holes for Jacobs and the running game to get over 100 yards.

Giants got Jacquian Williams back in the game, after spending a week on the bench and he played well. But on defense, Kiwanuka and Boley were the stars, making tackles all over the place, pressuring the QB and making plays in the passing game. They collaborated on the first INT of Brady, Boley getting his hand on it and Kiwanuka catching the tipped ball.

We've seen Eli lead 4th quarter comebacks in 4 other games this year, so that was not a surprise. But this was the best game the Giants defense has played this year and I think that is the most encouraging thing to take away from yesterday's game. They stopped the run very well and I think that Tuck returning to full strength has a lot to do with that. Kiwanuka played a lot of LB yesterday and was very good. In truth, he wasn't tested that much in space, but he did well nonetheless. I don't if you noticed, but they had JPP lining up quite a bit inside at the DT position. The Giants take fairly wide splite with their DEs, so it is less congested in the middle of the line, giving athletic DTs a chance to move around a bit and use their speed.

The secondary coverage was interesting, even though it's hard to tell exactly what they did in coverage while watching the game on TV. There were times when they had Ross on Welker and times when they had S Rolle on him. Webster, who is bigger occasionally was matched up on the TEs. Kiwanuka, who has been playing better and better this year, was on the field a lot, switching between LB and DE, occasionally blitzing from a standing position. Deon Grant even played a good game yesterday, making the INT, making a few tackles for a loss and defending some passes effectively. He did drop one other pass that he could have intercepted.