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.