Friday, December 30, 2011

Giants: cowboys game preview III

Just made my last arrangements for the bitching tailgate party for the last regular season game of the season. In case you haven't been to one, there tends to be a little bit of red meat served. An orgy for a carnivore, one might say. Let's put it this way - at tail gate parties, barbecued wings are like vegetables.We always have a good one for the last game of the year and when it is a crucial game like this one, we really go all out.

This will be a crazy game - weather is supposed to be good, which will make it more likely that the passing game will not be hampered for either team and, judging from each team's performance - great passing game, no defense - the air should be filled with footballs and it could be a high scoring game.

Nicks bad hammy is very worrisome for the Giants. Even though Cruz is having a big season, Nicks makes the passing game go.

Romo's bad hand could of course be a factor for the game. If he is inaccurate with some throws because of inability to grip the ball, it will be a big edge for the Giants. If both offenses move up and down the field easily, a play here or there by the defense which stops one drive or gives an extra possession for their offense could determine the game.

Everyone is saying the determining factor will be which QB plays better. I don't see it that way; both QBs will probably play well. I think whichever defense comes up with a  play here or there will determine the winner.

Tuck apparently recently finding his mojo again could give the Giants an edge. Dez Bryant making a play of special teams could also be a big edge.

More last second thoughts on Saturday night. Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Giants: Cowboys Game 2 Preview

Osi got back on the practice field Wednesday and several players said that he looked as fast as ever. I think Osi is protecting himself and wanted to get back on the field only when he was in 100% tip top shape so he could promote himself for his next contract. If he had played when he wasn't fully recovered, teams looking at him would judge him as a player diminished by age rather than as one who was injured. If he is 100% now, he was probably 80% last week and could have conceivably played and given something to the team. JPP and Tuck could have used a break from the 90 or so snaps they took on defense. I love a guy that puts himself over the team.

Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham are both hurting and the Giants will need a full complement of receivers to punish the Cowboys secondary. In my preview of the game against the Jets,  I said I did not like the match up of their defense against the Giants offense. Giants have a pass heavy offense and Jets have very good CBs. I turned out to be right - Eli had his lowest completion percentage in a long time but did make enough big plays to win it for the Giants. However, I love the match up against the Cowboys, because the passing game, the strongest part of the Giants offense is going against the Cowboys secondary, the weakest part of the Cowboys defense and among the weakest in the league. Eli threw for 400 yards in the first game and I don't see why he should not be successful this time either, unless of course two of his main threats are lame. Cowboys pass defense is predicated on getting to the passer, but with Ware hurting, that tactic might be mitigated somewhat. If Giants OL can block 'em up, the offense should be productive.

On defense, the Cowboys OL did a very good job against the Giants DL in game 1, both blocking for the run and providing pass protection for Romo. But with Tuck back healthy and with JPP playing at another gear, with Phillips back playing well and with Jacquian Williams playing better and improving with each snap, you can hope that the Giants defense will not be as porous as it was last time. However, the Cowboys have a very intelligent coach. With the Giants simplifying their schemes, playing more man-to-man, a defensive playbook which the Cowboys now have on film from the Jets game, they in turn adjust and can devise a plan that takes advantage of the anticipated Giants defense. What it will come down to is the Giants DL defeating the Cowboys OL in their individual one-on-one battles to control the game.

Amukamara hardly got on the field last week and when he got on, he was immediately picked on by Sanchez who threw a TD pass to Burress which was called back because of penalty. Amukamara will have to play some this week - Jets don't have the depth at WR which would require all 3 CBs on the field; they got away often with 3 safeties and used Rolle in coverage often. However, the Cowboys have more depth and talent at WR and will surely play offensive packages that require Amukamara to get on the field. Let's hope the Prince has learned to be competent in his coverage and maybe even make a play or two. Jets lined up two TEs  fairly often and a FB, and often had Burress on the bench. The Jets WRs don't stretch the defense like the Cowboys do. With Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Laurent Robinson along with a  threat at TE in Witten, Amukamara will absolutely have to play.

If Fewell starts Osi at DE and shifts JPP to DT full time, he should be fired at halftime. Osi will be fine to play on some obvious passing downs and to give Tuck and JPP a breather, but he should not get the bulk of the snaps. His trademark wide speed rush reaching back for the ball in the QB's right hand could be particularly effective against a QB with an injured hand. I would not be surprised if Cowboys use some more short passes to get get the ball out of Romo's hands more quickly and perhaps run more two TE sets to keep extra blockers in to protect Romo from the pass rush. Of course, this plays into the Giants new defensive tactic of not playing so much zone and trying to take away those short easy throws.

JPP has become a dynamic player and he is not just a pass rusher; he is a great run defender. He is leading all NFL DL-men in tackles. I don't think I am overstating things when I say that JPP will be the most dominant defensive player in football for the next 5 years, if he is not already. This is of course another reason that Osi should be shown the door this off-season. Giants should lock JPP up as soon as possible with a long term deal and how much money can you invest in one position?

I want to repeat that Jacquian Williams is really coming on and improving. He played his best game of the year against the Jets and his uptick in performance started in the first Cowboys game when he did a great job on Witten. He may be called on to do the same this week. He is a tremendous athlete and agreat physical specimen; it's just a question of him learning the game, which he seems to be doing. i am not giving up on Greg Jones or Herzlich for the future. Giants have some real young talent at the LB position for the future. But week 17 against the Cowboys is not a time to start making draft plans for next April. It's about kicking the @#$%^ Cowboys to the curb and sending them back to Dallas so they can reserve tee times for next week.

The worry for me is that Jason Garrett is a smart guy and I expect he will come up with a revised game plan to handle the defense he saw in the first game and that he saw on film in the Jets game. (He doesn't really need to change what he did in game 1, but can learn from the Jets game film.) I don't have confidence that Fewell can adjust on the fly to what Garrett does.

After beating the Cowboys, the Giants compass was pointing upwards and everyone expected the rise to continue witha  win against the pitiful Redskins. Of course, they lost to the Redskins and made Rex Grossman look like a star. Then after the Redskins loss, the needle or the Giants was definitely pointing downward and even the most ardent Giants fan expected them to lose to the Jets. They fooled everyone and beat the Jets. Now after, the Jets win, Giants are confident and hopeful, their fans pumped up and expecting the best, but who's to say that the alternating up-down cycle doesn't continue. On paper, I think the Giants have a good chance, but who knows what happens Sunday night.

All Giants season ticket holders got a phone call from Eli Manning (it was recorded, not Eli actually dialing 80,000 fans). On the call, Eli tried to pump everyone up, asked them for their greatest support, asked them to be proud and be loud and cheer the Giants on to victory. It was a nice gesture, but it seems a little lame and small-town to me. That's something they do in Kansas City or Jacksonville to get the hometown fans excited. We don't need that in NY area. We know when to get excited and cheer. I wonder if Eli made the call to all the Cowboys fans that bought tickets from Giants season ticket holders. There are always a lot of Cowboys fans at Giants games and it really annoys me.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Giants: Jets odds and ends

Under the Radar Plays

One of my favorite things to do when analyzing a football game is to look at the "under the radar" plays. By that I mean - everyone notices the big plays, the sacks, the picks, the scoring plays and remembers those. Sometimes there are subtle plays that seem relatively unimportant at the time, but in retrospect have a big hand and a causative effect on setting up that big play. A few such plays from the Jets game follow:

Giants were up 20-14 and had the ball with 4:55 left, 1st and 10 at their own 18, trying to run out the clock. 3rd and 3, DJ Ware runs for 17 and gets hit out of bounds for another 15 yards. Advancing the ball 32 yards is not a minor under the radar play, except the Giants did not score on the drive, did not hold the ball much longer,  ran it 3 more times and then were forced to punt. Nice play perhaps, but it didn't lead to any offensive points and didn't allow the Giants to run the clock down much.  However, as I have often sermonized about on this blog, football is all about field position. The extra 32 yards brought the Giants out across midfield and when Weatherford punted, he did so from the Jets 40 and trapped the Jets down on the 8 yard line. That set up the safety by Canty which iced the game.

BTW - Weatherford has had a great year punting for the Giants. I remember only one bad shank, he has been directionally punting beautifully, getting some great length and hang time. Great move grabbing him. I was sure someone would grab Dodge after the Giants cut him because he has a cannon for a leg. But I guess teams want consistency from punters, not five great punts mixed in with two or three horrible ones. You can't only consider  average yards per kick or even average net yards to measure a punter's effectiveness, but need also to view his kicks in percentiles. Punter needs to kick 95% mostly effective kicks, and have only a small percentage of shanks in order to be an effective kicker.

Another important, somewhat under the radar play was JPP's sack of Sanchez right before the half. Sanchez had just hit his TE Keller for 15 yards to the Giants 19. He then threw two incomplete passes and had a 3rd and 10. If he throws another incomplete pass, Folk is set up for a fairly easy 36 yard FG. JPP's sack knocked them out of chip shot FG into a 44 yard attempt that is a little harder. The difference in success for most kickers in FG accuracy for kicks below or above 40 yards is significant. Folk was sitting on the sideline for 3 plays expecting to kick an easy 35 yard (or so) FG and suddenly has to kick one that is closer to 45. He missed it badly wide right. (I love the sound of that - wide right.)

General Musings

The PI call on Deon Grant against Dustin Keller on 4th down that kept the Jets second TD drive going was a ridiculous call. There was barely any contact, Keller saw that he was too well covered and that the ball was out of his reach so he initiated the contact bumping into Grant and acted like he lost his balance because of the hit drawing the PI. Without the penalty, Jets don't score. In fact, they needed a gruesome two many men on the field penalty against the Giants (isn't that a 2 minute minor?) to allow them to convert another 4th down play on their first TD drive.

On the Canty sack for a safety that iced the game, Tuck made a really good play to make it happen. Tuck got some penetration against Wayne Hunter, jumped up in Sanchez' face obscuring his vision, forcing him to pull the ball down and hold it a beat longer looking for an open passing lane. By that time, Canty broke through his block and  sacked Sanchez.

I don't think we really appreciate how great year Victor Cruz is having and what a savior he has been. H is 3rd in the league in passing yards and couldn't get on the field in several of the first few games because Gilbride thought he made too many mistakes in route running. They were so concerned, in fact, that after Dixon went down with an injury, the Giants brought in Brandon Stokely as the slot receiver. Stokely got cut and Cruz got the wake up call necessary to motivate him to work harder and keep his job. Aside from massing piles of yards, he has made several critical catches that set up winning scores for the Giants. This past Sunday against the Jets, he made the 99 yard TD run, he caught a 36 yard pass that was the biggest play on the Giants second TD and he made a 30 yard run and catch that got the Giants down to the 2 and set up their FG.

Giants: defense and prospects for Cowboys

Inexcusable for me not to post yesterday, in "Cowboys week"... sorry.

This has been such a crazy up and down year for the Giants, I just don't know what to expect against the Cowboys. Let's review the bidding: After beating the Patriots with a  rousing victory to finish the first half at 6-2, Giants lost 3 in a row to a very good 49ers team, a very flawed Eagles team and a strong Saints team. Then, they lost an exciting game to the Packers, beat the Cowboys and you figured they had turned things around. But then came a terrible loss to the Redskins followed by a win against the Jets which just continued the up and down cycle. If they were up last week, they could be down this week against the Cowboys. No telling.

Giants defense looked revived against the Jets, and everyone is giving props to the DC for changing the game plan, playing more man coverage and being a little more aggressive. But let's not get too optimistic about the defense and remember what the main reason was that the defense played well against the Jets: the Jets offense stinks. They don't have a down field threat, have a flawed OL, have an average QB and do not have a breakaway RB. By contrast, the Cowboys have good speed at WR with very good deep threats, have a QB that can make plays down field, a RB that has real good speed and a coach that knows how to analyze a defense and pick at its weaknesses. Remember the first game - Giants won but gave up a lot of big plays to the Cowboys and needed a missed open WR by Romo to get the ball back for Eli and the Giants offense.

The Giants defense may give up a lot of points and yards again this week and maybe the few close plays that went the Giants way in that first game go against them this Sunday and the Giants don't pull it out. The thing that the Giants may have going for them is that the Cowboys DB-field is really weak and there's reason to hope that Eli and his WRs can get back on track after two off games the last two weeks. Ballard will be a loss if he can't play this week - he had some big plays against the Cowboys in game 1. Then again, if Beckum plays it could mess up the Cowboys coverage further. Here's why: Ballard made two big catches on the final winning TD drive and on both plays, the Cowboys were covering him with a LB. If they try that with Beckum, he will hurt the Cowboys also.

The glass half empty analysis says the Giants defense has been bad all year and seeing them play one good game against a weak offense does not mean they have suddenly turned things around. The glass half full approach says that even though the Giants have played poorly on defense this entire year, they have talent well above where they played and they may be turning things around at just the right time. The turn around could be fueled by several things: Tuck seems healthy again; Jacquian Williams is stepping out of his rookie shell, has gained some experience and is playing very well; JPP continues to improve with every week of experience that he gains; leaning a bit more towards man coverage makes it easier for defense to know what to doa nd cuts down on miscommunications and blown coverages.

I wish I knew what to expect Sunday night.

One interesting thing to note - the Giants defense played better in the 2nd half than in the first half against the Jets. They stopped the run better and cut down on Sanchez passing effectiveness. Sanchez longest pass play of the game was 15 yards. On pass attempts over 15 yards, Sanchez was 0-5 with 2 INTs.

Jacquian Williams is really coming on. he played well in the game against the Jets and played very well in the first Cowboys game, doing a good job on Jason Witten.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Giants - Jets game review II

Slight correction on previous blog posts: I slammed Gilbride for a bad call - for calling the pass right after Giants recovered the Jets fumbled snap in the end zone, with about 8 minutes left in the game. The papers reported that Gilbride sent in a running play, but Eli saw that the Jets were in a run-stopping front and the play would not have succeeded. Consequently, he called an audible and switched to a pass. Eli said it was a "safe" pass that he threw low so that the only person that could catch it was Nicks and if he didn't get it, it would fall incomplete. Of course, he didn't count on Nicks tapping it up in the air for a LB to pick off. This was in today's papers, but initially I heard some other story, that the RB came into the game late and the call didn't get to Eli in time, so they ran a pass play. It all sounds suspicious to me and I would not be surprised if Eli decided to fall on his sword, watch the back of his OC and accept responsibility for the awful call. I think the most likely circumstance is that Gilbride sent in a play that had a run or pass option and Eli elected to pass. That still makes it Gilbride's fault. I think Eli is a great QB and a great decision maker, but that is one time the coaches should have taken the play call out of the hands of the QB and required a run, no option. I watched the play again and the Jets did not line up 9 guys at the line of scrimmage and Eli did not appear to be calling an audible, so I am not completely exculpating Gilbride on this call.

One time Eli did appear to call an audible (thanks to my friend Ray for catching this) was on Jacobs 28 yard run right after Cruz' big catch to set up Bradshaw's first TD run. Eli was barking signals at the line, pointing and gesturing and the Giants barely managed to get the play off with only 1 or 2 ticks left on the play clock, all suggesting that he changed the play call, or at least changed the direction that they were going to run it. Jacobs ran wide to the left side of the offense, where the Giants ran about 75% of their plays to their right that day and the play was wide open. Jets defenders did not touch Jacobs until he was a good 15 yards down field.

Another example of Rex Ryan's questionable coaching on Saturday, IMO was going for the onside kick towards the end of the game. Giants had just gotten a safety, led by 8 and the Jets were punting from their own 20. There were more than 2 minutes left in the game, the Jets still had 1 timeout left, so if Rex trusted his defense to get a quick stop, he could have kicked deep and gotten the ball back for his offense with about 1:20 left in the game (but no timeouts). That has a low but not impossible chance of success. An expected on side kick, from a punt no less, where the kicking team telegraphs which side of the field they're going to has a near zero chance of success. We all know that Mike Westhoff of the Jets is a fabled ST coach, but I doubt that even he practiced on side kicks off punts following safeties.

I think Coughlin is not a perfect coach, but he is a solid football man and decent coach. On the other sidelines, Ryan has done well in his first two years as Jets coach, getting the Jets in the conference championship in both years. Perhaps his bold style, his bragging trash talk and his brash predictions have even helped propel his team, given them great confidence a little sizzle to their step and allowed them to play a little bit over their heads these last couple of years. I think his conduct borders on the unprofessional and is a high wire act that may eventually run a little old and tiresome even with his own players. I really don't know - players may love it - I am just guessing here. Players can get tired of the grating military style of Coughlin; they may get tired of Rex also.

The Giants offense missed a number of really good chances to make the game much easier for themselves than it had to be on Saturday. I was really disappointed that they did not score after getting 1st and goal from the 2 yard line early in the 2nd quarter, but after reviewing the game again just now, it was not as bad as I thought when I saw the game at first. On that possession, the first play call was a play action pass where both Pascoe, who appeared to be the primary target and Beckum, slipped coming out of their set position which totally threw off the timing of the play and any chance for success. Pascoe was all alone, Jets LB bit on the fake and moved up to stop the run. By the time Pascoe had righted himself, the window had closed. Eli tried Beckum but it glanced off of his hands. Giants failed on a running play on second down with a real good push by the Jets DL. On 3rd down, Nicks ran a slant and had Revis beaten, but Revis knocked it away from behind. BTW - Revis is a great player but he holds on nearly every play. On this particular pass defense, Revis had his right arm around Nicks waist and had his left arm grabbing Nicks arm before the ball arrived. Every other CB in football would have gotten called for PI, but Revis gets protected like he was Michael Jordan.

In the 4th quarter after Phillips INT, Giants had first down on the 14, but Jets put pressure on Eli prevented him from hitting an open Beckum on first down. They got a sack on 2nd down and on 3rd down, Eli overthrew Cruz by about 6 inches when Cruz was open in the end zone.

Giants had 3 takeaways on defense - two INTs and the fumble recovery. But there were 5 or 6 other plays that could have / should have been turnovers. There was the fumble by Kerley which was improperly reversed by the refs, there was the tuck rule overrule, there was the Sanchez hand coming forward overrule, there was the dropped sure INT by Grant and there was the fumble by Santonio Holmes that was called an incomplete pass. This game could have had a much different look if one or two of those five plays had gone in the Giants favor. Maybe one more day of thinking about the Jets game and then it's on to looking ahead to the Cowboys.

Giants: Jets game review I

After slamming the coaches for the better part of the year and a good part of last year, we have to give them credit when they do well. They did well this week. The defense resorted to a new style (DC Fowl must have been reading my blog) which is really a throwback of an old style. They were running much more straight man to man with S's varying between roaming deep and pressing up tighter, showing more tight press coverage. This was a change for the DC Fewell who had relied on a zone which the Giants defense simply did not play well. The results this week were really strong for the defense. There are several ways to look at the success of the defense against the Jets. After the initial drive, the Jets did not get into the end zone, except for a bad INT that gave them a short field on the Giants 15. Even then, they almost did not get in, needed two QB scrambles and a questionable holding penalty on Antrel Rolle to convert. You might say that the Jets were unlucky not to get into the end zone right before that, giving up the ball on a fumbled snap, so the return INT was just evening up a fumble that should not have happened. But I will counter that, by pointing out that the Giants gave up very few big plays (more on that in a moment) which forced the Jets to march down the field on slow painstaking drives, taking lots of snaps. This just gives the offense another chance to mess up - the modern day offense tries to score by gaining yardage in a big chunk or two to get in position to score, so it does not need to run the 15 play drives. Jets fumble was a result of Giants defense not giving up the big play, forcing the Jets to make play after play and giving them a chance for an error. Furthermore, the Jets were fortunate to get a ridiculously soft PI call on that drive to get them down there in the first place.

Another measure of the Giants defensive success, one that I like much more, is to examine the Jets passing performance. Sanchez passed for 258 yards, which is not a bad total for their offense. However, the 258 does not consider the 5 sacks Giants got, which takes 32 yards off of their total, leaving them with 226. This 226 came on 59 pass attempts, and if you add in the 5 sacks, Sanchez dropped back to pass 64 times. The best single statistic to measure a passing attack is yards per attempt and for the Jets, this total comes to a very meager 3.5 yards per pass attempt. The Jets ran the ball for an average of 4.2 yards per carry, which means that every time Sanchez raised up his arm to throw, the Jets had a lower expected gain than if they handed it off to one of their RBs. That is a remarkable statistic. Decent teams are in the 7 yard range, 8 or 9 being a very good number.; this 3.5 is embarrassingly low.

Another way to look at it is that Sanchez had more unsuccessful pass plays, 34 (29 incomplete throws + 5 sacks) than Eli had total passes in the game (27). Eli threw for 7 fewer net yards than the Jets on 9 completions compared to 30 for the Jets. It's no wonder Jets had many more snaps and time of possession, they didn't advance the ball down field at all. The few times they tried to go deep were either horribly off the mark passes, INTs or near INTs by the Giants DB field and one notable offensive PI on Plaxico.

JPP might be the best DE in football right now and IMHO, whoever is in second place isn't really that close. When Tuck is healthy, fresh and lively on the other side, like he was this week, the Giants DL is a force. The opposing OL can't slide their protection towards JPP or chip him with an extra blocker without leaving Tuck isolated or singled up on the other side and Tuck is a top DE also. Canty in the middle took advantage of being in JPP's neighborhood, also rarely seeing a double team. I don't want to get too excited, because I think the Jets OL is really a weak spot for the team, so we can't automatically translate Giants performance in this game to next week, or beyond if Giants make the playoffs. You know what they say - past results are not a guarantee of future performance. But still.... this was the best performance by the DL this year.

On offense, the Giants did not move the ball consistently, but still recognized that the Giants defense was doing a good job, so it did not put the ball in harm's way, with one notable exception. They took their shots down the field when they were there and hit on just enough of them to score some points. They ran slightly different runs in the 2nd half and were much more successful. In the first half, they were running more up the middle and had trouble against the good run stopping Jets LBs. In the second half they ran more outside and off tackle and were very successful. Again, Hynoski had a good game getting out on the LBs while the T and especially Snee at G hooked the DE and LB to whichever side they were running. Nice plan, good adjustments by the coaches and good execution. Giants only had 116 yards rushing, but more than 100 of those came in the second half.

I know Eli only completed 1/3 of his passes, but if it's possible to have a good game throwing such a  low completion percentage, he did. He threw a great ball to Cruz on the 36 yard pass to set up the second score. His incompletions were the result of balls thrown away, excellent plays by Jets DBs or miscommunications between Eli and the WRs resulting in balls landing in open spaces on the field.

Giants had 2 INTs, dropped 2 other INTs and had 3 fumbles reversed on questionable calls. I am not one for conspiracy theories, so i don't suspect the league or the refs of wrongdoing, but the Jets got every imaginable break form the referees in this game. Three plays were ruled fumbnles on the field and were reversed on razor thin calls, all against the Giants. The worst reversal was the first, Aaron Ross recovery and TD, when the Jets runners hand carrying the ball hit Deon Grant's foot, not the ground, but the call was reversed as down by contact nonetheless.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Giants: Jets game Review - initial thoughts

I still have only seen the game once and need to review it again to do some good analysis, but in the afterglow of victory, I have to publish my initial, off the cuff reactions.

The defense played its best game in a long time, maybe all year. I think there are a few contributing factors: Fewell came away from the soft zones which the Giants have been playing so poorly this entire year and resorted to more straight up man to man coverage. The DL had a huge game, getting in Sanchez face often, thoroughly outplaying the Jets flawed OL. More than the play of the Giants defense, however, could be the fact that the Jets really do not have a good offense. Their QB is mediocre; he has average arm strength, is not particularly accurate, is prone to make some poor decisions and  tends to hold the ball too long when he is looking off his primary target, all of which are important qualities for a QB. He has some talent, is a good runner and does throw a nice ball when he is confident where to go with the ball. Anyway - this is a Giants blog, not a Jets blog - so I guess to make a long story short, the Giants defense had better results partly because they played better and partly because the Jets offense is not very good. Giants stopped the run and held Sanchez under check in the passing game, giving up very few big plays.

Giants offense had a lot of trouble getting open receivers against the very good Jets pass defense. Their CBs knocked down a lot of passes, and Eli threw away a bunch because of bad communications with the WRs, but they made just enough plays on offense to give the defense a chance to win the game.

Gilbride made the stupidest call of the game which almost gave the game away. Giants were up 20-7 and had just stopped the Jets drive after Sanchez fumbled the snap and the Giants recovered in the end zone. There were 8 minutes left and the Jets limited and unexplosive offense had not scored a point since the first drive of the game. The Giants should have run the ball 3 times, taken 2 minutes off the clock and punted the ball back to the Jets. There is no way that the Jets anemic offense could score 2 TD in 6 minutes. The only way the Jets could get back into the game is with a turnover. Gilbride calls a pass, Nicks bobbled it, tapped it up into the air, Jets picked it off and the Jets were set up again at the Giants 10 yard line. This is the kind of call that made Buddy Ryan punch Gilbride in the face back about 15 years ago when they were both coordinators on the Houston Oilers.

Victor Cruz has been an absolute revelation this year. If he were the number 1 WR on the team, the offense would not be great. But as the second or third WR, he is a great play maker. This is the second time this year that he took a short, mundane pass, broke a few tackles and made a long TD run. Remember he did the same thing against the Eagles all the way back in game 3 this season.

Considering he completed only 1/3 of his passes, Eli had a very good day throwing the ball. Sounds crazy to say, but the Jets defense really disrupted the Giants offense and this had nothing to do with Eli's accuracy.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Giant: Jets game preview II

A few days ago, still cast under the depressing pall of a miserable loss to the Redskins, I published a post that matched my mood and pointed out three things that I did not like about the match up against the Jets. Reviewing that post briefly, the match up problems that I foresaw were: (1) Giants strength, their passing offense, will be going against a strong pass defense unit led be CB Revis. Furthermore, the weakness of the Jets defense is their run defense and their inability to cover TEs in the middle of the field, which are both things that the Giants are not well equipped to take advantage of, with poor running game and injured, average TEs. (2) Jets weakness, their offense, will be buoyed up by going against the worst defense in the NFL, our beloved Giants. If the Giants defense can make Rex Grossman look like Joe Montana and Vince Young look like an NFL QB, even Sanchez will move the ball against it.  (3) Giants offense has had trouble this year in games where the opposing DL swamped the Giants OL. I'm thinking of the Eagles game and the Redskins game as prime examples. If the Jets blitz and get a pass rush, it could further cut into Giants offensive productivity.

That's the bad news, the glass-is-half-empty kind of approach. However when I woke up this morning, the sun was shining, it was so warm that I was able to walk outside and get the morning newspapers without putting on a coat, so somehow I have a sunnier disposition today and I will try to put on my rose colored glasses and find some other match ups that go in the Giants favor.

Jets OL vs. Giants DL:  Giants DL has been far from dominant this year, but they have had their moments and have showed that they can play well at times. Jets OL has been spotty this year, particularly at the RT position with Hunter. Slausson and Moore have been good at the G positions but not overwhelming. Giants have to find a way to exploit this advantage. They need a big game from JPP on Ferguson at LT but need Tuck, Kiwanuka, Tollefson or whomever plays against Hunter to beat him up and disrupt the offense. Other teams have kept extra blockers in to protect against the pass rush and are sending fewer receivers out in pass patterns. Because Giants secondary has been so poor, the many-defending-against-few hasn't helped much. Fewell has been reluctant to blitz much this year, electing to play coverage more often. This doesn't seem to have worked and it might be wise ofr Fewell to get more aggressive with his blitz and pressure packages these last few weeks of the season. In any case, the Giants DL vs. Jets OL is a good match up for the Giants.

Giants OL pass blocking against Jets DL: Jets DL has not put a big pass rush on this year. Their success on defense has come from coverage in the DB-field. The truth is that the Giants offense has been successful in virtually every game this year when the OL has pass blocked well. When the OL was beaten up by a pass rush, specifically in the Eagles and Redskins home games, the offense did poorly. But with Baas coming back, maybe the pass blocking gets better and Eli has time to hold the ball and make plays in the passing game.

Giants 3rd WR against Jets secondary: Revis is a great CB and Cromartie has talent on the other side. However, after those two, the Jets pass defense is not as strong as its reputation. Figure Revis will try to take out Nicks and Cormartie will try to handle Manningham. That leaves Cruz in the middle against Wilson, who is beatable. If Beckum is healthy, I would take some shots down field with him , but Cruz in the middle could be a big weapon this week.

It's amazing how the outlook changes in the NFL week to week. After the close Packers loss, Giants fans were pumped up. After beating Dallas, Giants fans were REALLY pumped up. Then, after losing in ugly manner to the Redskins, Giants fans are really deflated. Let's try to remember that the Giants are not playing the '85 Bears or the Montana led 49ers. This Saturday they're playing a team that is 8-6, with as many holes and flaws as the Giants have, with a vaunted defense that gave up 45 points to the Eagles last week and has not beaten a decent team all year. I am not saying this is an easy game for the Giants - especially because Rex Ryan is a good coach who will motivate his players to step up and protect his back from all the trash talking he has been doing. But, it is far from an unwinnable game also. Giants have a chance.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Giants: One view of offensive play calling

Giants are in the upper half of the league in offensive statistics carried by their passing game which is 3rd in the league as measured by total yards gained. But the question one could ask is how efficient is the Giants offense. By that I mean - do they score as many points as they could based on the yardage that they gain. There are couple of ways to evaluate statistics around this. First, you could simply calculate efficiency as points scored per yard gained. In other words, if one team gains 350 yards in a game and scores 21 points, while the other team gains 500 yard and scores 24, you could easily see that the team with 21 points may have lost the game, but they took better advantage of their opportunities - they scored .6 points per yard gained, while the other team scored only .48 points per yard gained. The NFL on its website lists a stat called yds/point, which gets the statistic exactly backward, the reciprocal of what efficiency should be, unless you are ranking in reverse order.  Giants are 7th in the league in this stat of yds/point. If I got a sudden brain cramp and somehow misinterpreted this or made a mistake with this analysis, please comment; but I think I got it right.

There may be two other indicators of how well your offense takes advantage of its opportunities - red zone efficiency is one measure and another may be the percentage of short FGs your team has to kick, indicating that they got real close, but could not close the deal. Giants are 7th in the league in red zone efficiency, measured by TD / red zone appearance. That is not bad, but it can be a little misleading, because the Jets with a rather mundane offense are first in the league in TD conversions in the red zone. They don't get there that often, but when they do, they convert.

The other statistic that is interesting to explore which may also be indicative is one suggested by my son who asked me to research it on his intuition and see if it fits. How often do the Giants get tantalizingly close to the end zone, can't close the deal and have to kick a short FG? In order to analyze this statistic, I looked at FG statistics on and examined those kicks that were less than 30 yards as a percentage of the total kicks by the team. To me that is a much more instructive statistic than average FG length, because a few long desperation kicks at the end of the game or half can inflate averages, while these percentages remain smoothed out and are less affected by the few extra long kicks. A kick of 30 yards is taken from the 20, meaning that the team advanced the ball at least to the 12 or 13 yard line. League wide, there have been 870 FG attempts of all distances this year with 270 of them, or 31%,  less than 30 yards. There are a few teams that are above the average 31% at around 40%. But the Giants are at 50%, by far the highest percentage of short FGs in the league.

If the team can move the ball between the 20's that tells me that they have at least some offensive talent. At the goal line, the play calling has to be creative and there has to be a little deception to punch it into the end zone. Giants don't have that. Everything that the offense makes, every yard they earn, they earn on the strength of their own play. They are not helped by the coaching that rarely puts them in a position where they fool the opposition and get easy points.

Giants: Look ahead to Jets game

There are some things I really don't like about the match ups for this game on Saturday against the Jets.

Jets pass defense vs. Giants passing offense: Jets have very good CBs and have been effective at taking away the dangerous WRs of opposing offenses. The Jets weakness in defending the pass is when they have to defend talented TEs and RBs in pass routes in the middle of the field. The Jets S position and LBs are not good in pass defense and they have been hurt there this year. However, the Giants do not have really dangerous TEs to exploit this weakness. Ballard has played well this year, but is not a big time threat, rather is a nice complimentary role player. On top of that, Ballard dinged up his knee last week against the Redskins and will be out this Saturday. Beckum and Pascoe are also hurt and their availability is unlikely, so not only do the Giants not have a dangerous threat at TE to go after the Jets S position, they may not even have a healthy TE on the roster to line up at all. Giants should get Ramses Barden to run the TE routes, he might be a good threat. He is not as big as Ballard, and may not be a great blocker, but Ballard was not a great blocker either despite his size, so the running game might not be damaged that much. Jets play a 3-4, so the TE will probably not be called on to block the bigger DEs as often, more often will block the LB, so the size disadvantage may not be as damaging. Giants need a huge game for their OL and from Hynoski if they go with this plan, but it seems like the only choice.

Anybody's offense vs. Giants defense: I am particularly concerned about the Dustin Keller - Giants LB match up. I always thought that Keller was the best player on the Jets offense. Santonio Holmes is a real threat, I am not knocking him and Plaxico looks like he's playing pretty well. But Keller has the combination of athleticism, size and quickness that the new age TEs seem to be coming into the league with. He is big enough to block, is too fast to be covered by a LB and can be too physical for some of the safeties in the league. Mark Sanchez is not a great QB, but he does have some talent. When he is sure where he wants to go with the ball and when his first read is open, he can deliver a good ball confidently and accurately. Sanchez is a little shakier when he has to come off his initial read and find secondary targets. He tends to hold the ball too long and is a little inaccurate. Giants have to penetrate the Jets pass blocking, but it seems we say this every week. Who knows what will happen this week.

Giants OL vs. blitzing, scheming Ryan defensive game plan: Ryan has backed off from his creative, gambling, blitzing schemes in the first year or two that he ran the Jets defense. He now has a slightly more conservative approach. But with the Giants weakness in last few games pass protecting, with their inability to  attack the Jets middle with a dangerous TE and with the Jets great cover CBs, Rex may decide to change his ways this week. If I were Ryan, I would think about rolling the dice with Revis locking up Nicks and with Cromartie locking up Manningham, take my chances with Cruz and return to the blitzing from all angles approach to disrupt the Giants passing game. To combat this, Giants have to be solid with their blitz pickups, make sure they know who the hot receiver is on every play and try to exploit it with Cruz in the middle when they get their chances. Makes me a little nervous - not a slam dunk that Giants can handle this tactic. Giants and Eli handled Rob Ryan's Dallas game plan which included lots of blitzes and is probably not dissimilar to what the Jets would try. But Rob had terrible CBs behind those blitzes in Dallas, while Rex has Revis and Cromartie back there.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Giants: week 15 ramblings and musings

It's still hard to believe that the Giants looked so disorganized and disjointed against the Redskins. Imagine - Redskins have 5 wins the entire year and 2 of them are against the Giants. 3-9 against the rest of the league, 2-0 against NYG. Sheesh.

Looking back on the decision to keep Osi - with 20-20 hindsight that really turned out to be the wrong move. Osi had knee surgery, missed 2 games at the beginning of the season, is missing his 4th game in a row now with this high ankle sprain, and was fairly ineffective, unproductive and played completely uninspired football in the games he did play. Reese should have traded him then and gotten what he could get for him. But Reese loaded the team with such a young load of LBs who were of unproven talent, that they were forced to push Kiwanuka to the LB spot and therefore needed Osi to play DE. Bad GM planning.

Reese got all the kudos for the 2007 draft when Giants won the championship in his first year, every draft choice made the team and was considered to be a real contributor towards the title. They say it takes 5 years to truly evaluate a draft and here we are in the 5th year from that fabled draft and the results are a bit more sobering. The draft picks were: CB Aaron Ross, WR Steve Smith, DT Jay Alford, LB Zak DeOssie, TE Kevin Boss, OL Adam Koets, S Michael Bradshaw and RB Bradshaw. Of those 8 players, only 3 are still on the team with DeOssie being the LS, hardly an impact player. Ross has not panned out to be a star and Bradshaw, while he shows some talent has been injured every year. No stars, a few flat out busts, some players that hung around and joined other teams. Not exactly the same sparkling addition to the GM's resume that we thought it was at the time. A fairer, more complete analysis of the GM will come after the season is over.

In addition to the poor coverage by the Giants secondary, there were some horrible missed tackles on Sunday against the Redskins. In first quarter, Redskins had a 3rd and 17, Grossman threw a checkdown pass, Rolle missed a tackle and the WR ran for 16 yards, close enough for the Redksins to go for it on 4th and 1, make it and set up their first FG. On 3rd and 12 in the 2nd quarter, Grossman hit a short throw to Gaffney and he made Amukamara look sick when he made him miss and ran for an additional 10 yards after the catch to make the first down and set up a TD.

Everyone was yelling at the Giants for not signing Blackburn earlier after he made a few plays in the Green Bay game. It doesn't look like they're yelling now, when he has come back down to earth and approached the average level of play that he always represented at LB. Now we remember why the Giants (or any other team for that matter) didn't resign him this year.

Giants had a stupid sequence in the 4th qtr that effectively sealed the game when they had two TDs called back by refereeing decisions. One when the play was reviewed and it was ruled that DJ Ware had not gotten in to the end zone. Second was on the next play when a TD throw to Nicks was overturned by a holding call on Diehl.

Diehl has really been poor pass blocking at LT. He was beaten badly by Ware in the Cowboys game several times and had a rough go against Orapko this week. Against the Cowboys, their secondary is so weak that WRs were open and Eli could find them even on the move when flushed out of the pocket. The Redskins have a better secondary and the pressure just did not give Eli time to throw. This does not bode particularly well for this Sunday against the Jets who have a very good secondary. If the Jets manufacture pressure by blitzing or by beating the Giants OL, could be a rough day for the Giants offense.

I would try to run the ball against the Jets this Sunday; Jets have a good pass defense and have been run on by some teams this year. A good way to attack the Jets is at their S position, because, especially with Leonhard out, they don't defend the pass well. However, Giants do not have a healthy TE that they can suit up. Beckum, Pascoe and Ballard are all hurting and probably all out. I would play Barden at TE and try to attack with him in the middle. This might create some challenges for the running game, but the three TEs are not great blockers anyway, so it may not be that bad.  Maybe Giants can sign Marka Bavaro - he was at the game a few weeks ago for a ring of honor induction ceremony and he still looked fit.

Giants: Redskins odds and ends

It's really hard to believe that the offensive team that took the field against the Redskins and put up only 10 points, with 7 of them a meaningless garbage time TD, was the same team that played the week before and put up 500+ yards of offense and 37 points against the Cowboys. The NFL is so much of a week to week league - when you win, your team is great and you're figuring out possible playoff seedings and trying to figure out who they have to beat in order to make it to the Super Bowl. When they lose the very next week, you can't imagine how they're ever going to win another game, you're clamoring to fire the coach, fire the GM, and replace 42 of the 53 players on the roster. The truth, as always probably lies somewhere in between, and that's why you, the  faithful readers, need this blog to explain to you the true state of affairs for the Giants.

Looking back at the Redskins game, as bad as the offense looked, it's funny that just a few plays that the Giants didn't execute on offense could have easily changed the tenor of the game. There were lots of dropped balls in the first half, the most obvious of which was the sure TD that Nicks dropped. Of the first 6 passes that Eli threw, he completed none, that's a .000 completion percentage if you're math is a little shaky. Of those 6, there were 2 bad drops, one by Nicks and one by Ballard. There were two passes where Eli threw the ball away on purpose to avoid an INT or a sack and 2 others where the coverage was very good by the Redskins. Nicks had a bad day for dropped balls, uncharacteristically, he dropped a big sideline pass that was thrown perfectly by Eli, grabbed by Nicks and then ripped out by the CB. Actually, you probably have to credit the Redskins CB even though it was a drop by Nicks.

Giants looked to me like they were running the ball fairly well and I thought Gilbride should have stuck with the run or switched to it earlier. Instead, not only did he stick with throwing the ball, but he was relying on a  lot of deep balls, which required the shaky pass blocking to hold their blocks a little longer. Not a good strategy. It's going to be interesting to see what Gilbride does this week against the Jets and what Ryan plans in return. The Jets do not have a great pass rush from their front 7, and they have gotten away from the creative schemes and blitz packages that they did the first year or so under Ryan. Further the Jets have a very good DB-field, which allowed them to move away from the gambling blitzes and play more conventional. But after watching the Giants struggle against pass rushes the last two weeks and after watching his own defense get walloped by the Eagles playing the conventional schemes, I would not be at all surprised to see Ryan test the shaky pass-blocking OL with lots of blitzes this weekend. More on that when I look ahead to the Jets game later in the week.

Giants defense was really poor against the Redskins. They were not stopping the run well and left huge holes in the secondary virtually all the time. Redskins borrowed a page from other offenses book against the Giants. Giants have built their defense on the philosophy of a pass rush from the DL to equalize everything. Redskins often went with some type of additional pass protection, and sent fewer receivers into routes. Eventually someone came open, because the pass defense is so weak and Redskins were fairly successful through the air. Fewell just can't get the defense to play at a higher level and I absolutely hate how he seems to be trying to throw all the blame at the feet of the 1st round draft choice, Amukamara. He did not teach him the defenses well enough, or Amukamara has not internalized them perhaps because of not enough playing time or practice time, so he is constantly hesitating and not playing fast and confidently. There are lots of blown calls and missed coverages even without Amukamara, but I think there's something else going on. Fewell knows his job is in jeopardy and by throwing Amukamara under the bus, setting him up for failure and taking every chance to humiliate him, it is as if he is saying to GM Reese: look at the crap you gave me to coach in your 1st round draft choice. No coach could win with this. Did I mention that I wouldn't mind if Fewell is fired soon? If Giants lose to Jets and defense has a bad performance, I would think of firing him before the Cowboys game. That way, the Giants would be poised to hire Spagnuolo back as soon as the Rams let him go, which seems a near certainty to me.

On to the Jets

Monday, December 19, 2011

Giants - Redskins Review I

There can be little doubt now that a coaching change has to be made. There have been too many games this year where the Giants transparent and completely predictable style of play on both offense and defense has been completely undressed by opposing teams (textbook definition of being outcoached) . Conversely, there have been very few games (my rough estimate is 0.... is that few enough?) where the Giants clever and unexpected game plan in turn has outwitted their opponents (i.e. our guys never outcoached their guys). Everything the Giants earned this year they earned on the strength of their players, not because the coaches put them in a greatly advantageous position. Fewell has created a defense where it is way too easy to screw up and where the players are constantly blowing coverages - communications problems is I think what they call it. On offense Gilbride has created an offense where you need a degree in nuclear physics or rocket science in order to make the series of reads needed to run the right routes. He's lucky that he has a QB that can grasp his offense, that he has a few receivers in Nicks and Cruz with talent and high football instincts that can make the passing game productive. But you see the effects when you have someone like Manningham who may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, he makes a few mistakes every game, sometimes with disastrous results like yesterday's INT. The bigger problem is of course with the defense that is the worst in football, but the offense shines only on the strength of the QB, almost despite the coach, rather than because of him. I am not sure the Giants will get rid of Coughlin, they may decide to replace the coordinator(s) but in my opinion, I think Coughlin is equally, perhaps singularly responsible for the state of affairs. The primary job for a HC in today's complex NFL is to build a staff, select coordinators, motivate the players to play both hard and smart and manage the game on game day. But there should be more - the HC has to exert some level of influence or guidance on the development of the schemes, the development of the game plan and the style of play. He is not just a CEO that sits back and approves or rejects the plans that are brought to him. He needs to bring his views to shape the direction and strategy, if not the details and tactics.

I don't see Coughlin doing this. I absolutely hate it when after every loss, Coughlin comes to the podium and says "it's all about execution". To me, that is coach-speak for saying that the players screwed up. In other words: I coach good, but boy, do they play bad. Yesterday was coach-speak doubletalk. He said: "we played poorly and as the HC I take full responsibility. We just didn't execute. " Which is it Tom.... do you take full responsibility or do you blame the players for not executing your brilliantly devised game plan.

To make matters worse, the locker room now has so many players sniping at each other that they need to order shoulder pads made out of Kevlar. Rolle said you can't wimp out on practice and then play Sunday, a none too subtle slap at Captain Justin Tuck. In response, Tuck said, it's easy to be brave with someone else body. The way Rolle has been playing these last two years, he is the last one to complain about performance. He has been a real disappointment and, to quote that mid-19th century philosopher Ralph Kramden, he has a BIG MOUTH.

On to the game: when Beatty-Diehl-Baas were playing on the OL, they couldn't run block but did a pretty good job pass blocking. Now, the Diehl-Petrus-Boothe combination can run block pretty well but is not doing too well pass blocking. Diehl has been particularly porous at LT and Petrus has been mediocre at LG. The reason the Giants offense handled Dallas a week ago is because Eli did a great job moving around the pocket and avoiding the rush. Diehl did not play well at LG earlier in the year, is not playing well at LT now and is getting on in years - he may not make the team next year.

Gilbride, it seems,  knows how to call one pass play near the goal line, the fade to the corner. Last week against Dallas, he ran two in a row that didn't work against a poor Dallas secondary. This week against a good Washington DB-field that scouted the Giants well, Gilbride called it again and it was picked off. Everybody is pointing a finger at Mannigham and perhaps they're right that he did not run the right route. However, the DB was standing on the spot in the corner where the pass was intended because he knew exactly what route was going to be run. If Manningham had run the right route, perhaps it would not have been intercepted, but he would have been completely covered and the pass would not have been complete.

Gilbride does not realize what everyone else does and what I articulated above, that the Giants are a better run blocking team right now than they are pass blocking. He did not adjust his game plan one iota in this consideration and was throwing the ball all over the yard. Not only that, but too many of the passes were deep balls down field which required Eli to hold on to the ball too long behind the shaky run blocking OL.

Fewell and the entire defense are really picking on Amukamara and blaming the entire demise of the defense on one player. Pretty Ridiculous.

My friend Ray came up with an interesting idea in an email he sent to me. He gave me a list of players that he does not wast to see on next year's team. Good game - all join in with your commets. For me, the initial list of players I don't want to see around here next year: Diehl, Rolle, Grant, Manningham, Osi, Jacobs, Pascoe, maybe MacKenzie. Make up your own list.

Giants - Redskins: Shoot me now please

Here's my basic, initial and perhaps primal reaction to today's Giants-Redskins game: when do the Knicks open their season again? Thank the good lord and David Stern that the NBA settled its labor dispute and that hoops will again be on the scene. On top of that, the FCC ruled against James Dolan and forced Cablevision/MSG to offer its HD signal to other cable providers, so I get to watch the Knicks games in HD now.

Seriously - after the performance this afternoon, and after having lost 5 out of the last 6, does anyone really want to see the Giants get into the playoffs. The way they are playing now, they would not win a game even with home field advantage (3-4 so far at home this year) and even if by some stroke of providence and incredibly fortuitous circumstances, the Giants should win a first round game against a wild card team (probably Atlanta) there is no way that they could go up to Green Bay and beat the Packers. So what's the value of getting into the playoffs to be fodder for the good teams that are there? Incredibly as it sounds, the Giants played well against the Packers two weeks ago playing just well enough to lose, then played just well enough to win against the Cowboys last week and were awful today against the Redskins. Giants were soundly outplayed at the point of attack on both sides of the ball, but most importantly, had an incoherent poorly thought out game plan and did not have a chance from the opening whistle until the merciful final gun ended the disaster.

Before I go into the detail of what went wrong, let me take a 30K foot view first. When you have a mediocre team that has been carried almost entirely by the superior play of the QB, and then the QB has one off day, today was an example of the ugly result. There will be a desire to analyze each play, look for trends and close plays that turned the tide, but sometimes you have to raise your eyes up and look at the forest rather than the trees. Giants were poorly organized on offense, had poor tactics and did not control the action. 

The defense usually leads the team in having the weaker game plan, but this week OC Kevin Killdrive beat out DC Perry Fowl in having the worse game plan, though I must admit it was close. Giants ran the ball effectively the last two weeks for the first time all year. Redskins have been weak defending the run and strong defending the pass. So what does Killdrive do? Establish a power running game? Nope. Mix in some runs and passes together? Nope. Let's try throwing the ball all over the yard, and it's OK if you throw some short passes that have a higher chance of success, but make sure you throw the ball deep very often. And, Jacobs ran the ball very well last two weeks, so have to make sure that he doesn't play much or carry the ball much at all today.

On defense, Giants play a fairly high percentage of zone which gets beat nearly all the time and when they play man, the opposing QB can pick on one match up that he likes, recently has been the Prince and they have trouble stopping anyone there either. Requires either a sack by the DL, a bad throw by the QB or the QB going after Webster for a pass to be incomplete.

I don't want to give the HC a break here either, because he is responsible for the quality of the planning and for influenscing the game plan develoment by the coordinators. Coughlin's biggest weakness is precisely this - he does not meddle enough, he does not direct enough and he does not overall influence the game plan on either side of the ball. He delegates to Killdrive and Fowl to a fault and his fingerprints are not on the team anymore. He just yells when things aren't going ideally well and players largely tune it out. 

That's, it for now - I am too unmotivated to do a detailed analysis of this miserable game but will have some more stuff Monday and later in the week.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Giants: Redskins Gameday Thoughts

An interesting and important factor in this game is the running game of both teams. As we all know, Giants have the worst running offense in the league and have had trouble stopping the run on defense. Redskins seem to have a similar character: though they are not as low in the standings in each of these categories, they also have not run the ball well nor stopped it particularly well. However in the past few weeks things have changed just a little bit for both teams. It's only been a  few games on the offensive side of the ball for the Giants and Redskins, so it's not enough to elevate their league rankings. But the Giants, since they moved Petrus and Boothe into the starting lineup and slide Diehl out to guard have run the ball for 100 yards in both weeks. Jacobs looked determined, powerful and quicker last week, aided by the OL and by the improved play of Hynoski at FB. Similarly the Redskins have gotten some life in their running game from rookie Helu who looks like he has some speed and some power in his frame. On defense, Giants have not done much better: the Cowboys ran well against them, but they have had a few games this year where their run defense looked strong. A big factor for the Giants affecting their run defense seems to be the presence and health of Tuck in the lineup. Tollefson and Osi are just not good run defenders.

As the weather turns colder and with the goal of making the Giants pass rush more effective, the effectiveness of each team's running game will be a big factor. It's the old mantra for the Giants, but if Giants can stop  the Redskins running game reasonably well, they will put more pressure on the Redskins mediocre passing game and will give a chance for their pass rush to get after Grossman.

Cowboys offense looked very good and their defense was effective enough last night against the Buccaneers. Giants and their fans are all pumped up with the win in week 14 against the Cowboys because it gives the Giants their playoff fate in their own hands. Makes it seem like the Giants have it locked up, because usually your first reaction is that only one team can have its playoff destiny in its hands. However, the Cowboys also control their own playoff chances without needing help from any other teams. If they win their last two games , next week against the Eagles and the following week against the Giants, they are in the playoffs. Of course this is because the last game of the year is between the two teams and if they are tied going into that game, the winner of that game takes it. The week 14 win was a big one for the Giants, because it meant the Giants did not need help from anyone else, but it still does not guarantee the Giants an easy path to the playoffs.

Eagles have, at least theoretically, something to play for, because is all 3 NFC East teams finish the season tied at 8-8, the Eagles will get in because of tie breakers. However, if Giants win tomorrow against the Redskins, giving them their eight win, since the Cowboys and Giants play each other, there is guaranteed to be at least one 9 win team. If that happens, Eagles will have less to play for and might not be as motivated against the Jets this week and the Cowboys next week. Obviously, we don't care what they do against the Jets this week, but a week 16 win against the Cowboys would help the Giants chances.

A constant whine of mine on this blog is to move Kiwanuka back to DE. I don't want to suggest that he is a terrible LB - he is a good athlete and has become a decent player at that position. There are still some things that he is limited at, specifically playing in space against very athletic TEs and in general, closing that middle zone in the passing game. But he is better against the run, and knows his assignments well. With Tuck hampered by injury, it still makes sense to me to slide him back to his natural position. But with other available options somewhat  limited to the Giants because of injury to Herzlich and Paysinger, the Giants will surely use Kiwanuka as they have been - kind of a hybrid, starting at LB, but moving to the line of scrimmage occasionally.

Giants: Redskins Preview

This will not be an easy game for the Giants. It's not because the Redskins are such a great team, it's because the Giants are pretty average. From the 30K foot view - there are a few teams that are really strong - Packers, Ravens, Steelers, Saints, maybe Texans and 49ers get added to that group. Then, there are a bunch of teams that are really awful - Rams, Browns, maybe a few others. After the top and bottom, there are a whole bunch of teams that are grouped together in that mediocre category in the middle. Giants might be towards the upper part of that group, but there isn't as much separation among those middling teams as you might think. The sad thing is that I think the Giants have more talent than a lot of those teams, but they have not been getting the most out of their ability on the defensive side of the ball. Nevertheless, you are what your record says you are and what your stats say you are. The record and stats say that Giants are 1 game over .500  and that they are a very good offensive team and a very bad defensive team. Giants can play with the top teams and can lose to  the crappy ones. As proof, Giants played the Packers tougher than anyone in the league has this year, they beat the Patriots but they lost to the Seahawks and a bad Eagles team without their QB. Giants are better than the Redskins, but if they don't play sharp, they can lose this game.

The hope that you have as a Giants fan is that Amukamara's learning curve is relatively short, that Phillips comes back and plays well at S, that Tuck recovers from his various injuries and in general that the defense plays a little closer to its potential. On the offensive side, you have to hope that Eli keeps playing the way he's been playing, that the new OL continues to play physically and opens up holes for the running game and that the weather doesn't get too bad and prevent an effective passing game. (Weather tomorrow is supposed to be brisk, but above freezing, sunny and not too windy.) But let's be realistic - perhaps we can hope for the Giants to play a little better, but a quantum leap in quality of play in week 15 is somewhat unlikely.

The match up with the Redskins on paper is not bad for the Giants. The weakness for the Giants on defense has been in the passing game and their best weapon to stop the pass is a good pass rush. The Redskins do not have great WRs, Santana Moss is probably their fastest outside threat, and they are missing their LT and TE who are both good players. Grossman does not have a bad arm, but if you can make him uncomfortable, you can bother him. On the other side of the ball, the Skins have a good defense. They have pretty good CBs and very good pass rushers in Orakpo and rookie Kerrigan. They had trouble stopping the run earlier in the year, but have been better the last 4 or 5 games. The big break for the Giants is that S LaRon Landry is done for the season, so we might look for Eli to attack the soft middle of the field. Nicks killed the Redskins in week 1, so they might give him some extra help, which means that Victor Cruz could be an important player to attack the Redskins weakened S position.

Redskins have not run the ball well this year, but rookie RB Helu has looked good last few weeks.

In summary, Redskins have some weapons and some talent, but are iffy at the QB position and let's face it - they are 4-9. If the Giants play well, they should win. But if they play are not on their game, Redskins could steal the game.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Giants Playoff chances

Don't want to jinx the Giants and start talking about playoffs, but there are a few different circumstances under which the Giants can make the playoffs. The easiest one is well understood - if the Giants beat the Cowboys at Met Life Stadium on January 1st and do no worse than splitting the other two games against the Redskins and Jets, Giants will win the NFC East. In that circumstance, they would be tied, because the Giants will be no worse than 9-7 and the Cowboys will be no better than 9-7. Since, in this circumstance, the Giants will have won both games against the Cowboys and the head-to-head record is always the first tiebreaker applied, Giants will win the division at 9-7.

However, there is another circumstance that is not entirely unlikely that will also work for the Giants. If the Giants win their next two games against the Redskins and Jets while the Cowboys lose to the Eagles in week 16, the Giants will win the division regardless of the outcome of the Dallas game in week 17. This is because of a change the NFL made in tiebreaker rules this year. First the math: If Giants beat Redskins and Jets, they will be 9-6 going into the last weekend. If Cowboys beat the Buccaneers and lose to the  Eagles, their record will be 8-7 going into that last weekend. Even if the Cowboys win week 17, both teams will be tied with a 9-7 record. In that circumstance, the Cowboys and Giants would have split their two games, so the head-to-head record does not break the tie. The next tiebreaker is division record and both would be tied at 3-3. The teams would have split with each other and the Giants will have also split with Eagles and Redskins while Cowboys would have swept the Redskins and would have been swept by the Eagles.

In the past, the next tiebreaker was conference record, but this year, they dropped that one slot and moved record against common opponents up one notch. The common opponents outside of the division are the 8 games the two teams have played against the NFC West and the AFC East. Giants record in these 8 games would be 6-2 while the Cowboys would be 5-3. If conference record had remained as the higher level tiebreaker, Cowboys would have gotten in with a 7-5 conference record compared to the Giants 5-7 record.

Go Eagles!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Giants: Good or good fortune?

We were all pumped up about the Giants last two games: the stirring, well played almost-win game against the undefeated Packers and the win against the Cowboys. The last game, the win against the Cowboys, did two things: 1) put the Giants back in first place in the East and firmly in the playoff race and 2) beat the @#$%^ Cowboys. (I must admit that there are only two things that I root for ever NFL weekend - a Giants win and a Cowboys loss. If both those outcomes happen in the same game, even better. If the Cowboys lose - the more excruciating, disheartening and disappointing the loss the better. My brother put it another way - when a team loses a lot of games in a row and is suffering through a painful season, you start to feel sorry for them and hope that they win a game or two to improve their spirits. Not so for the Cowboys - if they were to theoretically lose 1,000 consecutive games, I would be rooting just as hard for them to lose number 1,001).

Back to the Giants - as uplifting as these last two games have been, we have to admit that we are not really looking at a team that, even if it makes the playoffs, is ready for a long run through January. Giants are an average team, or maybe slightly above average, that is being carried by an extraordinary QB that is having a remarkable season. The defense has been weak through 13 games; there's little reason to expect that they will suddenly rise up and figure out how to play strong defense these last few games.

Even in the Cowboys game, there were a few lucky plays that went the Giants way without which the outcome might have been different. The most obvious of these plays were two - one that came right at the beginning and one right near the end of the game. In the first quarter on the Giants first possession, Eli threw a pass intended for Cruz toward the right sideline. Terrence Newman jumped the route and had a sure pick 6 but he dropped the ball, a play that surely could have changed the game. Then at the end of the game, Romo missed a wide open Miles Austin on a play that probably would have been a TD and certainly would have been a long gain and a first down, which would have ended the game.

Of course, on the flip side,  the INT by Lee was a lucky play for the Cowboys. The ball was tipped, a good play by the Cowboys DE, but it veered off course, hit the back of the Giants blocker in front of Lee, rolled over his shoulder, hit Lee in the hands and happened to stick for an INT. Cowboys also got the benefit of some lucky calls by the refs - the non-holding call on Ballard at the goal line which took away 4 points from the Giants after the Jones fumble and the call that Jones went out of bounds on the tackle by JPP when his knee actually touched before going out of bounds were also game changers. I guess in the larger perspective both teams got some breaks and they sort of even out over the course of the game. A bad throw by Romo is not a lucky break as is a drop of an INT by the DB Newman, any more than the drop of a few passes by Cruz and Manningham were bad plays and not lucky breaks. Those things happen in the course of a game; they are magnified when they happen at the end and appear that they alone determine the outcome of the game. All it really means is that the game was very close and a few plays going the other way could have changed the outcome. That's the point - the game was really close and even though the Giants won, they are far from sure of beating the Cowboys in the return date on New Years Day.

Giants: Odds and Ends

As I said in an earlier post, JPP was directly responsible for 8 points in the game, making his contribution huge, but there is another way to look at his impact. Cowboys had 12 possessions in the game and they scored on 6 of them - 4 TDs and 2 FGs. Of the 6 possessions that they did not score on, JPP directly stopped 4 of them.
  1. He forced the safety on the Cowboys second possession 
  2. He stripped the ball away from Jones and forced the fumble before the half on the Cowboys fifth possession 
  3. He got a sack of Romo on 3rd down to force a punt on the Cowboys 8th possession.
  4. He blocked the FG attempt on the Cowboys 12th and final possession.

On the Cowboys next to last possession, when Romo missed Austin on 3rd and 5, JPP also teamed with Canty to stop Jones for no gain on 2nd and 5, bringing up that 3rd and 5. That was not him doing it on his own and was not the play that actually ended the possession, so I am not giving him credit for that one. Nevertheless, 4 out of the 6 defensive stops go on his ledger. Unbelievable. I wonder what Fewell will do if/when Osi comes back. I don't care what they do with Osi, but if he moves JPP out of starting RDE position, I will scream.

It seems obvious to me that Fewell is out of his element, is in way over his head and is clueless at how to coach a  defense. The defense is getting worse as the year goes along, a sign that the players are confused, that the opposing offenses have figured out the Giants simple schemes and that he is unable to adjust to what they are doing to the Giants D. I know Giants have had lots of injuries on defense, but Giants are now playing 3 of the top 4 CBs that they had planned to use coming in to the year. The LBs should have matured a little bit by now and the Giants certainly have some talent in the DL. I am not saying Giants defense should be top 5 in the league, but they certainly should not be bottom 5. One way of looking at a coach is - does he make the players better or not - how would an average coach in the league do with these players. In my opinion, the answer is obvious and it is getting worse rather than better.

There is no getting around the fact that the OL is better with Petrus in at G. He is more athletic than Diehl, more mobile and has more of a classic G's body type. Diehl had a poor game against Ware at LT even though he didn't give up any sacks of Eli. That is more a testament to Eli moving some in the pocket and getting rid of the ball quickly against the weak Dallas secondary than it is Diehl's blocking. Don't be surprised if Diehl is fighting for his job next year.

With Osi out and Tuck banged up, with Boley back healthy, with Blackburn on the team and with rookie LB Williams playing a little better, there is no longer any excuse to play Kiwanuka at LB. He should be exclusively at DE. I know I have been whining about this all year, but it is more urgent now with the DL almost as thin as the LB corps.

My most un-favorite two offensive play calls for the Giants are the straight draw out of shot gun formation and the WR screen, usually thrown to the RB when he lines up first in the backfield and then goes in motion and lines up as a WR. It's not that I don't like the plays for any aesthetic reasons, it's just that they never seem to work. This week, Giants ran a fake off of that WR screen and it went for good yards. Eli pump faked to Ware, coaxing the DB that was lining up opposite Nicks to charge hard towards Ware. Nicks faked a block and then  ran a simple wheel route and was wide open for about 18 yards. This completion was right after the intentional grounding penalty on Eli and one play before the blitz/blown coverage/TD pass to Mario Manningham.

Giants: More on Eli and offense from Cowboys game

Eli now has 4,105 yards total passing, which exceeds his career best year with 3 games still to play. I think the yards may be a little harder to come by in the next few weeks, because the Giants are playing these three games on the east coast where the weather is sure to be poor for at least one of the games. Furthermore, the middle game against the Jets presents a real challenge because they have a very strong pass defense. Putting those little facts aside, there are only two passers in history that have thrown for more than 5,000 yards in one season. Dan Marino, who has the record with 5,084 yards, is the first and and Drew Brees is the other. This year there could be 4 QBs that pass the 5,000 marker and Eli has an outside chance at being one of them. (Brees, Brady and Rodgers are the other 3.) In order to hit 5,000 yards for the season, Eli needs to average 298 yards per game over the last 3. Challenging, but not impossible, especially when you consider the fact that he is averaging 315 yards over the first 13 games.

Every game, Eli makes one or two throws that just make you catch your breath and say "wow". This game there were a few and in fact, the remarkable thing is that he is making the game look so easy, that there were only a few. One of my favorites in this game was the 24 yard throw to Nicks down to the 8 yard line right before the Ballard TD pass that made the score 34-29. Eli was rushed on the back side by DeMarcus Ware and up the middle by Spencer. He saw the rush coming before it was right in his face and moved out of the pocket to his right to avoid the rush. Nicks ran a post route to the middle of the field, then cut it off and ran back to the sideline, beating the coverage by a step. Eli had a really small window to fit the ball into and the timing had to be perfect. A half second early and Nicks does not clear the defender. A half second late and Nicks can't keep his feet in bounds. If the ball is off target and Nicks has to reach down or reach up even a little, the timing is also thrown off and Nicks cannot tap his toes in bounds. Eli unloads a rocket that hits Nicks right in his hands, chest high who then snatches the ball out of the air, gets the toe on his left foot down about two inches in bounds and then goes out to stop the clock. It required a great catch by Nicks too, any small bobble or shifting of the ball before securing it and he catches it out of bounds. His huge hands clamped down on the ball and he secured it as soon as it hit his hands.

The pass to Manningham, that he dropped for what would have been the go ahead TD was also a great throw. It needed to be up in the air to get over the head of the trailing DB, but if Eli threw it up too high, there would have been time for the S to get over and hit Manningham. It got up and down perfectly - an excellent throw, even though it was incomplete.

I also loved the first play of the winning TD drive, not so much because the throw was so special, but because it demonstrates how great an overall QB Eli has become. Giants had the ball with 2:12 left and needed 58 yards for the score. Giants were taking a lot of deep shots down field to their WRs up until that point in the game, and an edgy QB might want to go for a big chunk there to get the drive started. Eli knew that there was plenty of time and Giants still had two TO's left, so he was not going to force anything. Through most of the game Cowboy's DC FRR (Fat Rob Ryan) had thrown a lot of very different and creative blitzes at Eli in his attempt to confuse the Giants QB as he had predicted in pregame press conferences. After getting burned on these blitzes, Cowboys dropped everyone in coverage and had only 3 rushing the passer. Their DBs were flooding the intermediate and deep zones, double covering all the WRs. That left Ballard 1-on-1 with a LB and Eli hit Ballard perfectly with an easy pitch and catch and a 21 yard gain to get the drive rolling.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Giants: Cowboys game review II

I spent one post talking about Eli, it's probably worthwhile to spend one on JPP. A modest prediction: he is going to be the best defensive player in the NFL for the next 5 years. As great a player as he is becoming, this was probably his most impactful game. You could easily argue that he was directly responsible for 8 points in this game: the safety against Romo, the strip of Jones which led to the Giants FG shortly before the half and the block of the attempted game tying FG were all direct plays that he made on the strength of his individual effort. In addition he had 8 tackles and 2 sacks. One of the tackles he made was a game saver that  really should have ended the game if the refs did not blow the call. On 2nd and 10 with 29 seconds left in the game trying to protect that 3 point lead, Romo saw a Giants blitz coming and called a screen pass to Felix Jones. It was actually a zone blitz with JPP dropping into the flat. JPP tackled Felix Jones and tossed him out of bounds, but he actually was down in bounds, his knee clearly touching the ground before he went out of bounds. The sideline ref waved his arms and stopped the clock, meaning that the Cowboys ran their next play with 24 seconds left. They hit Austin for 20 yards and had to hustle to get to the line, spike the ball and give their FG kicker a try with 6 seconds left. If Jones had correctly been called down in bounds and the clock had continued to run, another 15 or 20 seconds would have run off the clock and the Cowboys would have been forced to try a desperation Hail Mary because there would not have been time to set up for a FG otherwise.

It's still amazing to me that this is now several games in a row where there was not a holding call against the opposing OL. With Giants pass rush the feature, it's hard to understand how they would not occasionally grab some jersey or hook someone's arm. I saw Canty getting held several times by Kosier and JPP was held by Free more than once. 

Having said that, I have to admit that the refereeing was not awful in this game. That is not to say that there were not a fair number of missed calls, in addition to those mentioned above, but there were a decent number of calls that went in the Giants favor, where the refs might have swallowed their whistles considering the home town venue. I am referring to the two defensive penalties in the Giants winning TD drive. Both were obvious penalties that the refs simply could not have ignored, the holding on Frank Walker and the offside penalty against Ware, but still.... they did make the calls. The other badly missed call was the holding on Ballard in the end zone right before the half prior to Tynes FG which momentarily gave the Giants the lead before the half.

Of course, the most ridiculous call was the intentional grounding call against Eli. The reason it was absurd was because of the circumstances - the ref did not throw a flag and because coach Garret yelled and motioned vociferously, the crowd got into it, the refs were intimidated to throw a flag a full 10 seconds after the play was over. I always whine about this because it doesn't happen in any other sport. It's as if the refs are saying - "oh wait... you mean the QB is not allowed to throw the ball away on purpose? OK, coach thanks for telling me, in that case I'll throw the penalty flag. BTW - what do we call this... intentional grounding? Check. Thanks for your help"

I thought the QB and WR got their signals crossed; Eli threw outside Nicks ran inside. Or - maybe it really was grounding. Nevertheless, the refs should not change their minds because the home town coach or player yells at them and gets the crowd barking along with him. It's just stupid.

Giants: Cowboys game review I

You can't overstate how great Eli was in this game and how spectacular he has been all season. I talked about it in my previous post but it should not go unsaid or unrepeated. First the raw statistics: 135 yards and 2 TDs in the 4th quarter, bringing the Giants from 12 points back with 6 minutes left. Giants had to score two TDs, but with only 6 minutes left, not only did he have to score, but the first one had to be quick. So Eli took them 80 yards in 2:27 for that first score on the pass to Ballard. Then the Giants defense got a 3 and out on Dallas next possession, thanks to an overthrow by Romo to a wide open Miles Austin (why was Austin smiling widely when he was trotting off the field after that failed connection?). When Giants got the ball back, Eli had 2:12 to get the Giants into the end zone and he took 1:26, leaving 46 seconds on the clock. Good thing Mannigham dropped that perfect throw by Eli with 1:33 left. If he had scored then, Cowboys would have not been forced to take their two timeouts and would have had an additional 35 seconds on the clock. The way Giants defense was playing, Cowboys probably would have scored a TD.

Eli and Nicks hooked up on a beautiful play on that forst 4th qtr TD drive, Eli hitting Nicks for 24 yards on the right sideline just as Nicks was going out of bounds. He tapped that last toe an inch in on the 8 yard line right before the Ballard TD.

On the 64 yard Manning to Nicks pass in the first quarter, I thought Nicks should have scored on the play. He didn't put it into that extra gear after the catch and was caught by the S. Giants had to settle for a FG there and I thought that was a big stop by the Cowboys. The play calls were a little unimaginative by Gilbride there. He called two fade patterns, one to Manningham and one to Beckum. Giants have sued that successfully this year, so you have to figure teams are looking for it. It was a little strange throwing it to Beckum - the idea of the fade there is that the WR has to be quick enough to beat the CB to the corner of the end zone, or big enough to jump over the DB and have the QB throw it up high. Manningham is equipped to out-quick the DB and he has run that well, but I don't love Beckum in that spot. He is not quicker than the CB and is not bigger. Giants scored 37 points, so you certainly can't complain about the offensive production, but getting stopped twice in the red zone and being held for short FGs hurt the Giants positioning in the game.

The other time Giants were stopped for a short FG was after the Felix Jones fumble. Giants started on the 15 yard line and couldn't punch it in. I have to give them a break there, because Ballard was held the entire time on his pass route by the S and it was ridiculous that the refs did not throw a flag.

Giants running game which has been MIA virtually the entire season seems to have had a revival the last two games. Jacobs is running with purpose, downhill and hitting the holes more quickly. But you have to credit the revamped OL opening holes in the middle of the defense for the RBs. Petrus looks like a much better G than Diehl. He is quicker, more athletic and a little stronger. Diehl may be too big to play G, but Petrus has been making some excellent blocks. By the way, Diehl had a lot of trouble with Ware in pass blocking last week, even though he did not get in to make any sacks. Eli got rid of the ball quickly and moved away just enough to neutralize his rushes, but Diehl did not have a very good game. If you still have the game on DVR, look at the blocks Petrus made on Jacobs TD runs (especially the second one)  and then again on Ware's 2 point conversion. But one other huge factor in the Giants improved running game has been the improved play of Hynoski. I don't know if he's moving more quickly because he is more confident in his assignments, but he is engaging his blocks further upfield, hitting the defenders with more power and playing with more energy. Pascoe is still up and down, occasionally making decent blocks and occasionally getting completely getting blown up and whiffing. But, with improvement in the OL and Hynoski coming on, the running game is definitely improved.

With all of the injuries to the offense - Nicks, Manningham, Bradshaw and Jacobs all missed quite a bit of time and now with the OL injuries, you have to give credit to Gilbride for keeping the ship afloat. I don't want to give him too much credit, because a lot of his success is on Eli's blessed right shoulder. They talk about QBs that are coach killers, well - Eli is a coach saver. Coughlin and Gilbride should pay 20% of their salary to Eli for "protection". While I can be magnanimous with Gilbride, I am not giving Fewell a free ride. Even though the injuries have been severe on the defensive side, especially in the DB-field, there are just too many flaws with this defense that fall on the coach's plate to be excused. Even though Giants have had 6 DBs lost, the fact remains that right now, Ross, Amukamara and Webster are playing and they were penciled in to be 3 of the top 4 CBs on the team. Up until this week, there have been no injuries to the safeties. Giants also did lose their starting MLB Goff, but have other talent that they brought in at LB that should be playing better by now.

What falls on Fewell's plate are the missed assignments by the defense that happen way too frequently. That is the DC's accountability - that is what coordinating and coaching is. His schemes are way too simple and predictable; simple for the opposing QB to read. I also don't like his personnel usage. In the first half when the Cowboys were running against the Giants easily, they were sitting in their nickel package too often without a MLB on the field. Kiwanuka is playing LB way too much, especially with Osi out and Tuck injured. Finally, the one great player Giants have on defense, JPP, is only playing his optimum position, RDE because Osi is injured. I guarantee - if Osi had been healthy, he would have started at RDE, meaning that JPP would have been shifted to DT. If that had happened, the Giants defensive performance would have been even weaker and they would have lost the game.

I guess the topper for me was the interview I heard by Justin Tuck in his spot on local radio in NY. When asked by the interviewer why the defense was so bad Sunday, Tuck gave what has to be considered a shocking response and a screaming indictment of the coaching. He said that the Giants had read the Cowboys tendencies and saw certain plays out of certain formations. In response to how the Cowboys lined up, Giants game plan was to automatically check into certain coverages based on those formations. In the second half, when the Cowboys saw how the Giants were reading these formations, they made some subtle shifts and used different formations that were not exactly consistent with their tendencies. Giants defenders did not know what to expect or which defense to automatically check into. As a result there were several miscommunications and you saw the results - in addition to getting beat individually, they were not coordinated in their defensive calls and left guys wide open just because of blown coverages. If there is a more direct (though polite) way to say "we were outcoached" I can't imagine what it is. Cowboys made adjustments that confused the Giants defense. End of case.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Giants: Eli NFL MVP

Before I get into analyzing the unbelievable Cowboys game Sunday night, I just have to get something off my chest. Eli is the MVP of the league this year and, IMHO, it's not really that close. I know Rodgers is a freak of nature and the world's most perfect QB. I know Brees is having a great year, has a quick release and is putting up just ridiculous numbers with the Saints. I am not even saying that Eli is better than those two, but I am saying that he has carried the entire Giants team on his back this year and has done almost as much as those other QBs with far less talent and resource surrounding him than either of those guys. Remember what MVP means - most valuable, not most talented, not best arm, not most yards.... most valuable. Without Eli's unbelievable year, the Giants are probably 3-10 or 4-9 to this point. Of the Giants 7 wins, 5 have been 4th quarter comebacks engineered by Eli.

Consider the following:
  • Giants have the worst offensive rushing numbers in the league.
  • Giants defense has been horrible this year and ranks way down near the bottom of the league.
  • Giants ST have been average, not hurting the team much but not helping either.
  • The only part of the Giants that has achieved some measure of excellence has been the passing game and that has been all through Eli's talented right shoulder.

Giants OL had been totally shuffled coming into the year. They brought in a new C, shifted the LT to LG and slid in a new LT to decidedly mixed results - it hadn't been terrible, with the notable exception of the home game against the Eagles, but it certainly hadn't been great. Then, the starting C goes out with an injury, the LT goes out with an injury, Giants have to reshuffle again. They slide the LG back out to LT and in game 12 have three players starting at new positions, including  two brand new starters in the middle of the OL at C and at LG, two guys with little starting experience in the league (actually one with 0 games started) and unproven, undetermined ability. Most offenses and QBs would melt under this pressure, but Eli fights through it without batting an eye. When there is pressure, Eli manages to sneak out and make the pass blocking look much better that it really is. Nobody is going to confuse Eli's running capability with Vick or Cam Newton, but he doesn't get enough credit for moving around just enough to make the OL look good.

Now consider the skill position players around Eli - Cruz and Ballard are both nice stories and Manningham has some skill, but realistically, of the starting WR / TE group, the only player that would get playing time on the Saints or Packers is Hakeem Nicks. Ballard probably would not even make the team up in Green Bay or down in New Orleans. Heck - he might have been headed to the practice squad for the Giants if Boss had re-signed instead of heading to Oakland. In the offensive backfield, I feel the same way about the talent back there. I like Bradshaw, Ware is an average player and Jacobs has had a bad year. Even though the running game seems to have had a little revival in the last two games against the Cowboys and Packers, I still contend, that none of the Giants RBs would get any playing time in New Orleans ahead of the talented group of RBs that they have. Is this a problem for Eli - nope, he took chicken  @#$%^    and made chicken salad out of it. In other words, while Rodgers and Brees are great players, Eli has definitely done more with less compared to them.

His passing has been uncannily accurate, his decision making and audible calling have been impeccable, his leadership and the calm nature that he brings to the huddle with which he imbues the entire team is the swizzle stick that stirs the drink. He hasn't carried the offense on his shoulders this year. He has carried the entire team.