Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Saints Game Review II

The QB
Eli threw some great balls against the Saints, but his two INTs were inexcusable. On his first INT he threw the ball 3 yards behind Jernigan. I wonder if he expected Jernigan to pull up and sit down in that spot in the zone instead of continuing his cut to the outside, because there was a DB out on the sideline also. If so, we should charge that INT to Gilbride because he has an offense that requires the QB and WR to have ESP to know what the other is thinking before the throw, or at least to Jernigan for making the wrong read. However, the second INT, where Eli telegraphed where he was going, locked onto the receiver all the way, then hesitated and double clutched, giving the S lots of time to get over and make the play was the kind of play that Mark Sanchez would make. I am not worried about the QB, but that was a bad play. Eli also made a few throws that could have been intercepted but were dropped by Saints defenders. One throw to Cruz in the 2nd half on the goal line was underthrown and should have been a TD. Instead it could have been picked, though it would have requried a great play by the DB. The one that really bothered me was the ball to Hixon in the first half, where it looked like Hixon was behind his man on a seam route and a good throw might have been a TD. Ball was underthrown badly and was dropped by the Saints DB. I am not saying that Eli is not a great QB - he is. Maybe this is nitpicking, because he did throw for 4 TDs and >250 yards. Maybe it's just that we have come to expect excellence from him and when we don't see it, it sticks out like a sore thumb. Maybe it's the lack of burst from Nicks, who made the passing offense go last year and who everyone acknowledges, even tight-lipped Coughlin, is below full strength. Giants passing offense always had a very low margin for error, requiring perfect reads and throws by the QB. When it's a little off, it can look pedestrian. Whatever it is now, that's what the Giants are going to have to ride into the playoffs, because it's the passing offense and the DL that are the best units on the team and have the potential to reach the greatest heights and propel the team.


Jacquian Williams got back onto the field and looked pretty mobile. The LBs did a decent job against the pass, but the run defense overall was not very good. Saints got a good push against the DL and the LBs were not filling the holes. Surprisingly, the DTs have been pushed around lately. I thought that with Canty back in the lineup the run defense would improve, but they have been vulnerable last two weeks especially. I thought that the Redskins game was an aberration because of the unusual style of their attack, but the run defense was poor against Saints also. Giants defense rises and falls on the ability of their DL to stop the run and generate pass rush in passing situations. They have to step it up.

Don't know if you noticed but the Giants in the second half seemed to use Tuck in coverage on a few occasions. There have been many plays in the last few games where Tuck is standing up at the line before the snap, but that was more for confusing the OL and not letting them get a read on where he was coming from and who needed to block him. This week, there were several times when the Giants rushed only 3 and Tuck dropped back into (short) coverage. Giants did not get burned by this, made a few stops and in fact, this was the formation where they got their only sack of the day, so I can't kill its use. But if you want to play a 3-4, my instinct says you should use 4 real LBs.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Saints game review I

After the Packers game in week 12, in which the Giants had such a dominating performance, everyone was taking the approach that the Giants had arrived (again). They cast aside their recent two game losing streak against the Bengals and Steelers and were ready to go on their end-of-season run to make some noise in the playoffs. I was less convinced by that Packers win. While it is certainly true that they played much better than they had in the previous two losses and in the shaky win against the Cowboys, I was not ready to affirm that they were fixed. I asserted that the Packers were not as good as they have been in the past few years and specifically, their OL is broken, giving the Giants a chance to take advantage of that matchup and play better than they really were. They took a little step back, both on offense and defense against the Redskins the following week and now with their hold on first place over the victorious Redskins and Cowboys somewhat tenuous, they put up a 52-spot against the Saints and won by 25 points.

Again, the fans just looking at the scoreboard and the big plays are going to shout hallelujah, claiming that the Giants, with their backs against the wall again have shown their grit and are ready to go on that end-of-season and playoff run. Sorry, but I remain unconvinced. There are definitely some good things to take out of this game; maybe lots of good things. But there are also definitely some issues and we need to honestly look at the whole picture and not hide our eyes from the flaws.

The good things are obvious: at the top of the list is David Wilson. His return game was spectacular and even though the Giants did not capitalize on all his great returns with points, the field position it gave the team helped in the flow of the game. After the game, virtually the whole team was crowing about him, calling him the best athlete on the team, the fastest runner and almost surprised that it took so long into the season for him to take over a game on ST. Truthfully, I am more upbeat and more impressed about his performance in the running game from scrimmage than in the kick return game. With that speed, you know he had the ability to run around the edges, as he did when he scored his TD at the end of the game earlier this year against the Browns. But this game he showed a lot more. He ran very effectively between the tackles, knocked over some tacklers and used his powerful legs to churn in a TD at the goal line. I know it's only one game, but he looked like the full package Sunday against the Saints. His performance will absolutely force Coughlin and Gilbride to play him more, especially with the apparent injury to Bradshaw, but I think the offense may be more effective with him in the lineup over Bradshaw. His presence will force the DBs to play a little closer to the line of scrimmage and maybe open up the passing game a bit. He looked so impressive that it really makes you wonder why the coaches were holding him out so long and not giving him some snaps earlier in the season. Did that cost the Giants one of their five losses?

The second good thing to report on from this game is the performance of Antrel Rolle and especially Will Hill in the secondary. Hill is really coming on and frankly is a perfect player to add to the 3-S package that Fewell likes so much. He is fast enough to play S and is a really good hitter, big enough to hold his own in the running game. He had some huge hits yesterday, one of which helped force a fumble. Rolle played an outstanding game - covering the Saints all-world TE Graham and keeping him more or less under control. He also forced one fumble, recovered another and set up Stevie Brown's first INT on a tipped ball, when Graham was the intended target. Rolle went up high with the much taller Graham and tipped the ball away making it an easy INT for the always-in-the-right-spot Stevie Brown. Speaking of Stevie Brown - I liked the play he made on the first INT, but that was easy, picking low hanging fruit, after the tip by Rolle. Brown's second INT was a brilliant play and essentially closed the game for the Giants, when a completion there would have made the game very tense. He stayed home with his deep responsibility, read the route and the QB perfectly and jumped the route to make the pick.

Nicks showed a little bit more speed and mobility, but is clearly still not 100% Cruz had a big game, getting 100+ yards and not dropping any balls. The OL was decent for the pass, but not very good against the run until late in the game when the Saints started mailing it in on defense. I am worried about the OL with Diehl out there at RT when the Giants have to play against a real good DL.

That's the good news. Now the bad news: the biggest thing I am worried about is the defense. You could argue that the Giants offense gave away 14 points on turnovers, so the defense allowed only 13 points, which is not bad. I know Giants forced 4 turnovers and they were all on good plays by the defense, not gifts from the offense. But turnovers are not really repeatable, especially fumble recoveries and that was a big reason the Giants stopped the Saints offense. The Giants DL was way too soft against the running game, being gashed for runs right up the middle. In the first half, Giants gave up >100 yards rushing. The DL had some pressure on Brees at times, but this entire defensive philosophy is predicated on getting pressure on the QB and there was only one sack.

The thing that bothered me the most was the apparent inability of the defense to play, safe, conservative  defense when they got a big lead. Giants were up 14-13 after NO FG in the first half and scored 21 straight points to open up a 35-13 lead with 8 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. Teams can make comebacks from 3 TD deficits, especially with some play makers on offense, but the defense should make the offense work, not give up any big plays and make them take 5-6 minutes to score with a long drive. You do this by keeping the ball in front of you and have the S aware of his deep responsibility. After that TD that opened up the 3-TD lead, Saints scored on 2 plays. First Brees threw up a 62 yard ball to Morgan that was so poorly thrown, floating in the air so long that it looked like the Giants DBs could have called for a fair catch and picked it off. Giants did have 3 DBs back in the area, but they played it so poorly that Morgan caught the ball and ran a few yards before being tackled. It was one of the most poorly defended balls I have seen. Sproles scored on the next play. Giants gave up 350 passing yards, but a lot of them were in garbage time when Saints were way behind. They made some good plays on the ball in the DB-field, but that long pass to Morgan really bothered me and the Giants should not be making mental mistakes like that in week 14.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

WR and the offense

When an offense does not have speed and a legitimate deep threat on the outside, they become limtied and can be more easily defended. (I read that in the "Football for Idiots" book that I leave on my nightstand.) It's not just the deep balls themselves or even the threat of the deep ball that keeps defenses playing looser and gives up the shorter balls to help the offense move. It's also the space to catch the short ball and make a move before the defender is on you, giving the offense a chance for longer gains and even breaking one for a "cheap" score. The Giants greatly benefited from this last year and are getting badly hurt by the absence of this dimension this year. We all remember that last year, Cruz had a number of huge plays, catching a short ball, making someone miss and turning it into a big score. Relying on my memory and not looking up stats on the web, I can recall the Eagles game when Cruz made his big debut on the scene, that he caught a short sideline ball, made the DB miss, ran through an arm tackle by Asomugha and ran 70 yards up the sideline for a score. There was the Cowboys game in week 17 and of course the Jets game in week 16 when he turned the season around for both teams on the 99 yard score. I think Cruz had 5 or 6 scores of 70+ yards with big YAC components.  Looking up the stats on ESPN, last year Cruz was 5th in the league in YAC yards with 595. This year through 3/4 of the season, he has 252, which projects out to 336 for the season and is 32nd in the league.

Cruz has good speed, but Nicks is the real speed guy, the deep threat that occupied the attention of DBs on other parts of the field giving Cruz room to make a catch, make a move and make a big play. Last year Cruz averaged about 18 yards per catch and this year he is at 12. That's a huge difference and I believe it is brought about by several factors. First, defenses are paying more attention to Cruz. But second, they can pay more attention to Cruz because on the other side of the field, the deep threat isn't there. Nicks' numbers are decent this year, but not great. We saw examples of it in several games this year, where Nicks just doesn't have the explosion to scare DBs and Cruz is bottled up because he then draws the double teams. Against the Redskins last week, on the deep ball to Nicks, the DB tipped it because Eli slightly underthrew it. But rewinding the play back to the break off the line of scrimmage, you can see that Nicks got a great release, beat the DB cleanly off the line of scrimmage and should have been 5 yards behind his man. Instead he was only a stride or two in the clear and the ball got tipped away when Eli's throw was not perfect. This also affects Nicks and Eli's ability to hook up on the back shoulder throw which becomes effective when the CB has to turn his hips and run downfield to protect the deep throw. This was a staple of the offense last year and it just hasn't been there consistently this year. We saw the Redskins stop one Monday, when Nicks caught the ball out of bounds.

But this also affects Cruz' performance. He did catch the one deep 49 yard ball and a beautiful 30 yard throw on a post up the middle. But there were several balls that were attempted as underneath throws giving him a chance to make a play and there was nothing there. In the first quarter on the first drive of the game, Giants had a 3rd and 8, and Eli could not connect with Cruz who could not find a comfortable spot to sit down in the zone because of all the traffic. Defense was up tight because they didn't worry about balls getting behind them. In the 2nd quarter, Giants had a 3rd and 11, Eli hit Cruz with an underneath route hoping to get him to make a move and get the first down, but he was stopped for a 6 yard gain and no YAC yards.  Then in the 3rd quarter, Giants had a 3rd and 5 where Nicks caught a 3 yard pass and later they had a 3rd and 9 when Cruz pulled up because he was going to get whacked on a short throw, and he dropped the ball. All these plays ended drives and were plays that were prominent in the Giants repertoire last year - catching balls short of the line to gain, making a move and getting the yards. These are not happening this year and I beleive it is at least partly  due to the diminished abilities and speed of Nicks due to injury, leaving less open space on the field.

Nicks said before the game that he felt better than he has all year. But "better" is a relative term. He still is less than at full strength as evidenced by the fact that he is not practicing today. He may be better, but he's sure not perfect. Giants could use another big play threat, which is why Randle or Jernigan need to step up.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Other observations about the Giants and Redskins

Giants have the most vanilla, uncreative defensive packages in the league. The read and react nonsense that Fewell runs puts no pressure through confusion on the opposing offenses. Giants have no deception, no disguises, no switching in and out of defenses, no showing presnap reads to the QB and switching to something else. If the DL dominates, which they are capable of, the defense looks great. If not, Giants defense is vulnerable.

I like the speed at LB on the Giants defense, but the LBs played the worst game of the year against the Redskins. They made no tackles for losses in the running game. They bit on every play action fake leaving wide open WRs because they were invisible in their drops. Of course, Fewell plays only zone, so the DB coming from behind looks like he gets beat on every one of those easy pass completions. In fact, the outside LBs have been invisible lately, Blackburn is the only one in the LB corps making any plays. The 3-S look doesn't work against the Redksins power runing game. A 3-4 look might work better, though of course you can't change for 1 game in the middle of the season. Playing the LBs a little wider in the 4-3 scheme would also be better against all the stretch plays that the Redskins run. Fewell just had no answers, no creativity to stop the 'Skins. The rest of the Giants schedule is tough, but at least they are more conventional offenses which won't fool Fewell.

In any scheme, offense or defense, if you're predictable, you're dead. Giants are very predictable on defense and can only beat teams, good or bad, like the Packers that take the similar approach. Packers attitude is: we have a great QB and great set of WRs, why do we need to be deceptive? We'll just beat the stuffing out of you with our talent. When their talent wanes a little and their OL declines, Giants can beat them. But teams that are creative and can handle the Giants DL give them trouble.

Even on offense, I think Gilbride is a good coach, though Eli makes him look better than he really is. But he has been the Giants OC for a long time and the league has gotten use to the Giants tendencies on offense. They can move the ball between the 20's, but inside the 20 you need some deception, some innovation and/or a killer running game. The fact that the Giants have so much trouble closing drives and settle for many short FGs indicates a problem more in the coaching than the personnel.

It is clear that this is why the Giants lost and despite Coughlin's wails, it goes beyond penalties; they left points on the board on their drives. Giants outgained the Redskins, which is a little misleading because Giants had terrible field position all day and had more field to cover on their drives. But instead of counting yards gained, consider the following. Each team had one drive that moved the ball well and failed to produce points: Giants on their missed first half FG and Redskins on their fumble inside the 20 which Rivers recovered. On the other drives, Giants had 4 successful scoring drives and Redskins had only 3. But FGs are worth 3 and TDs are worth 7.

Coughlin said that the Giants need to win their last 4 games and I think he's right. The Redskins, the way they are playing, have a good chance at sweeping their last 4 games and finishing 10-6. They have a tough game this week at home against the Ravens. But after that they have 3 very winnable games: Browns, Eagles, Cowboys. If they get to 10-6, the Giants will have to finish ahead of them, because their division record will be 5-1, while the Giants will at best be 3-3.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Redskins review II

Speaking about penalties, Giants had a holding penalty on every single kickoff return. Two were charged to the same guy, Jim Cordle, who would undoubtedly be cut today if Giants hadn't lost Locklear for the season and were therefore short on OL depth. Loss of Locklear could be a killer - Giants can probably get by with Diehl, who was serviceable when he came in, but the OL is dangerously thin now. One more injury and they're in real trouble.

After all that, as much as the Giants were dominated by the Skins running game, Giants still could have won the game (I believe would have won the game) if not for the holding penalty against Beatty that took away the 3rd and 10 conversion in the 4th quarter. Can't jump all over Beatty, he has played well this year and established himself as a solid LT. But that penalty could have cost the Giants the game.

We can whine about Eli missing those two deep throws to Cruz and Nicks that should have been TDs in the first half and it's true - those plays really killed us. A top QB like Eli simply cannot miss those throws, and in a close game, missed opportunities kill you. But - look at the game from a bigger picture perspective. Griffen had wide open receivers to throw to all night and every one of Eli's throws had to go into tight windows. Even those two throws that he missed, Cruz and Nicks were not 3 or 5 yards open - they were a step beyond their man. On the ball to Nicks, the ball was underthrown by maybe a foot and the DB had time to reach up and knock it away - there was not a lot of separation. On the throw to Cruz, the ball was about a yard or two overthrown and it had to be perfect for a completion. Eli couldn't just throw it up high and let Cruz run under it because he was not way open. Some of the throws Eli made were outstanding, it's a pity that the two he missed stood out so much and cost the Giants. If the game had been more wide open and Eli had had more opportunities to throw, Giants would have had a better chance. by challenging the Redskins in the running game, the Giants were playing to the Redskins strength. Especially in the second half, the running game was soft and more footballs should have been in the air. Give Redskins defense credit for tightening things in the second half, but they did not take enough chances.

To nitpick even further, on 3rd and 20 after the Beatty holding penalty, I did not like the middle-screen to Bradshaw. It was a give up play and had no chance of success. They were probably guessing for a blitz and thought they could catch them, but the middle of the Redskins DL was very stout and it had little chance of success. I actually considered that two-down territory. I would have tried to complete something medium depth of maybe 10-12 yards to give the Giants a chance to go for it on 4th and manageable. If they don't get the first down, Redskins would have good field position, but a FG or even a TD by Redskins doesn't end the game. They have to stop the Redskins running game one way or another, and whether they do it on their own 40 or the Redskins. The enemy there was the clock, not field position.

Redskins game review I

Giants coaches will say that the players didn't execute on defense, committed too many penalties both on offense and special teams. This may be true, but the real truth is that the game plan was weak on both sides of the ball. Coughlin went into the game apparently feeling that the Redskins offense was so explosive that they had to try to keep RG III off the field. Giants went into the game with a plan to dominate time of possession and hold the ball on long time consuming drives, taking only a few shots down the field. I don't like that strategy as a general rule, but it certainly does not make sense against a team that is run centric. As dynamic a player as RG III is, as exciting and dangerous as he is, the Redskins ran for 240 yards against the Giants in the first game and the Giants strategy should have been to take them out of their running game and force them to pass. The best way to do that is to make the game a shootout and make it high scoring. In the first half, the Giants had more yards, nearly double the time of possession, their offense did not have to punt at all and still needed an amazing 35 second drive at the end of the half to come out leading by a FG. I understand the need for balance - you can't throw on every down, but with no pass rush against them and Eli throwing the ball well, Giants were too conservative on offense in that first half. Eli missed Cruz and Nicks when they were behind the defense and open for TDs on the drive that resulted in the first half missed FG. That drive killed the Giants - they should have had 7, could have had 3 and ended up with 0. But those were the only two deep shots Giants attempted in the first half and the Giants should have been more aggressive offensively in the first half. In the second half, when the Redskins played a little better on defense and the Giants made a few mistakes and penalties to kill drives, they managed only 3 points. If the game had been more up tempo, Giants would have gotten more possession in the whole game and might have scored more than 16 points. They had only 4 possession in each half, including that 35 second FG at the end of the half....not a good strategic plan. Giants defense could not stop the run in the second half and would have been much better off to play with a bigger lead that put pressure on the Redskins offense to throw.

Defensively is where I am really disappointed about the game plan. Fewell gave them absolutely nothing new to combat the Redskins running game. It was hard to see on TV how often the Giants played their 3-S combination, but that is more vulnerable to the running game, especially the power running game that the Redskins use. The Giants DL was fooled on nearly every play: on the run option, the Giants got beaten every time. The DEs either over-committed to the RB or under-committed and let him run up the middle. Didn't the coach work on that during the week? Didn't he teach them and show them how to play it? Redskins have not been doing this every week against every opponent.... Steelers stopped them a few weeks ago. On pass plays, every play action fake, every play that had some deception in it worked 100% of the time and Griffen did not have to squeeze any balls into tight places - WRs were wide open on every play. The entire defense was just looking at RG III and not watching their man and taking care of their coverage responsibility. Playing zones, which the Giants seemed to play a lot of last night, you can't just look at the QB - you have to (borrowing a line from Red Holzman) see the man and the ball. Giants were just looking at the ball in the hands of the QB.  If you have the game on DVR, look at the TD pass to Garcon that put the Redskins ahead 17-16. RG III is rolling to his right and Boley is looking into the backfield, has his eyes fixed on RG III, has no idea that Garcon is a few steps in front of him and only makes a move into the passing lane after the ball is safely in Garcon's hands.

Maybe I am overrating the talent on the Giants defense and they are not as good as I think they are, but the defensive coach did nothing to help the Giants. Redskins did absolutely nothing different on offense than they did the first time Giants played them, yet the Giants had no different defensive plan to stop them. Execution and talent is one part of winning the game. The second part is the coaching, scheming, play calling and deception that the coaches put into the game to help the team win. Every fake, every deception, every ruse that the Redskins used worked against the Giants. Conversely, the Giants had no deception that gave them an advantage against the Redskins - everything was based on pure execution.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Looking ahead to the Redskins II

It's getting closer.... kickoff about 4 hours away. It seems so trivial to say that this is a big game; they're all big games when there are only 16 in the season. Having said that, consider the fact that there are three division crowns already locked up (Patriots, Broncos, Falcons) and one other team (Texans) has a playoff spot clinched with 1/4 of the season to go . I find that stunning - what happened to parity in the NFL... One fourth of the season to go and realistically only one team in the AFC has a shot at making the playoffs and knocking out a team that is currently in "if the season ended today".  A few more are alive in the NFC - but still, there are many teams eliminated and many spots virtually locked up. Based on this, I guess you can say that some games are bigger than others - you can lock up the playoffs early and coast home. If the Giants win tonight, they get a good lead in the NFC East, knocking out the Redskins from practical considerations and maintaining a 2 game lead on Dallas with 4 to go. If they lose, then both the Redskins and Cowboys would be just 1 game behind with a difficult stretch of games coming up for the Giants. Furthermore, it would be the Giants 3rd loss in the division - not good when it comes to possible tiebreakers. One thing that worries me about tonight's game: it means everything to the Redskins, but it is "just" very important to the Giants, not necessarily life-or-playoff-death.

Redskins defense is not that good - they are ranked near the bottom in pass defense and with Nicks getting healthier, we can hope/expect that the Giants offense will put some pressure on the Skins. Giants have to be careful with the ball, because Redskins defense is very aware of Giants offense, audibles and line calls with the defection of Cofield to Washington a few seasons ago. Redskins offense has been humming lately, they got Garcon back as a legitimate deep threat, they have run the ball very well and Griffin III has been great. Giants may have to put up a lot of points tonight.

Giants defense can not be too cautious tonight. They blitzed very little against the Packers but still were able to generate a pass rush with their front 4, so they could play coverage and take away Rodgers passing game. If Giants can do the same tonight: stop the Redskins running game and get something of a pass rush without blitzing, they may be able to contain the Redskins offense somewhat. The Redskins OL has played much better than the Packers, so Giants may need to be a little less afraid of blitzing to get some pressure. I suspect that the Giants will take away the deep balls and try to make Griffin beat them on slow, long methodical drives. If they can hurry him into a few mistakes or hope he gets impatient by taking away big plays, they may have some success. That argues for Giants not to be risky with lots of blitz packages and instead to stay in their rush lanes and be conservative, different than what i suggested above. I think they will have to bring some pressure and bother RG III into some mistakes, because of the balance of the Redskins offense. As dangerous as RG III is, Giants have to make a big effort to stop Morris and the Redskins running game.

It will be interesting to see what the Giants do with their 3-S look if Phillips (as expected) will not play. I still like Kiwanuka on the DL, because having speed on the field is important - Kiwanuka is fast for a DL-man but not as fast compared to typical LBs. Even without the 3-S look, Giants should use Hill, Hosley or Hill as a S and let Rolle play nickel slot against Moss. This is a key matchup for the Giants; Moss did some real damage in the first game and the Giants know from using Cruz how important a deep threat in the slot is.

Friday, November 30, 2012

NFL Standings

Often at this time of year, the division races are still close and  a winner is uncertain. This year, while the divisional races may still not be completely decided, there is some distance between the division leaders and the second place teams in most of the divisions. In the NFC, the only race that is a 1 game lead is the North where Bears lead Packers by 1 game. In the NFC East, the Giants have a 2 game lead over the Redskins and Cowboys, but that lead could get cut in half after this weekend. Redskins play the Giants and if they win, they are in a real good position to make some noise in the divisional race, because their schedule is much easier coming down the stretch than either the Giants or the Cowboys. On the other hand, if the Giants win, they really should win the division. They will then have a 3 game lead and the tiebreaker over the Redskins and a 2 game lead over the Cowboys (assuming Cowboys beat the pitiful Eagles this week.)

In the other divisions in the NFC, Falcons and 49ers really have it sewed up and also have a lock on the 1-2 seeds in the playoffs which comes with that first round bye.

RG III is really impressive and when the Redskins get a chance in the next few years to add some players around him and restock the team, they will be even more dangerous. Redskins gave away so many draft picks to get RG III that I thought it would take them years to be even an average team. But he is such a dynamic player and has such a unique blend of skills, that he makes average players around him look much better. He is going to be tough to handle in next several years.

Giants have a huge challenge this week in Washington. In the first game, although the Giants won, they were outplayed. The Redskins outgained the Giants by about 200 yards. Giants won on the strength of 4 turnovers and the magical 77 yard pass to Cruz for the winning TD with about 1 minute left in the game. You can't count on the Redskins turning the ball over so often - turnovers are not really repeatable - and the Giants have to come up with an answer to stop RGIII. Actually, the 3-S look might be useful, because it keeps more speed on the field, but I am not sure Kenny Phillips will be healthy. Giants will need a big game from their DL, like they got Sunday night against the Packers in order to somewhat contain Griffin.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Looking forward to Redskins I

Kiwanuka and Blackburn were the best players on defense for the Giants against the Packers. Kiwanuka played exclusively with his hand in the field-turf and was excellent. He was good against the run and was often in Rodgers face, getting 2 sacks. With the Giants playing more 3-S formations, which takes a LB off the field, there were even fewer snaps available for Kiwanuka at LB, so the move to get one of the Giants best athletes on the field was a sound decision. He did not play DE all the time, in fact, it looked to me like he was at DT most of the time. This is also smart against a QB that can run like Rodgers and of course carries over to this week's game against RG III. Having a DT that can run down a QB in the open field is a big advantage. The Giants might be reluctant to use 3-S look too often against the Redskins, primarily because of the size of their OL and their big RB Morris, who was very impressive in the first game against the Giants. Packers have a weak OL and do not have a power running game, so the Giants gambled on their DL defeating the OL of the Packers and taking away their running game. They left extra DBs on the field often in their base defense to combat the Packers dangerous passing game. If the Giants show too much 3-S and leave the box soft, Redskins will try to trample it with their big runner. Maybe even more than last week, the Giants need a huge game from their DL to take away the run and get a pass rush on RG III. It sounds so simple and in fact it is probably the game plan of every defense every week - take away the run; get them in passing downs and then turn your pass rushers loose. But in this case, the matchups are such that it is even more important. Redskins outgained the Giants last game by a lot - they generated more than 450 yards of offense. Giants won the game because they forced a bunch of turnovers and that is not something you can rely on or can expect to repeat. Giants have to come up with a better game plan to stop RG III and I think they need to not overcompensate for his speed and running ability. Play the running game straight; play him as a normal pocket passer; surely be somewhat conservative in your rush lanes, but if you get away too much from what you normally do and what your personnel is designed to do, you will not play well anyway. Having Kenny Phillips available this week is very important: because of his coverage ability and mostly because of his tackling in the open field. Sticking Rolle on their dangerous slot WR Santana Moss is a big help for the Giants defense. Phillips helps in that regard, freeing up Rolle for that slot.

Blackburn is getting better each week. I kept hoping that Herzlich would win the job from him because he seems faster and more athletic, but Blackburn is just playing outstanding football. His football IQ is so high - he is rarely out of position, understands the angles that he needs to take on the football field and is actually faster and more athletic than he looks for a guy his size. He almost got an INT in the middle of the field (which resulted in lucky catch for Packers on the tipped ball) and made a great play covering the extremely athletic TE Finley of the Packers knocking the ball away in the end zone. He's big so he plays the run well and fast enough to do the job in the passing game. His blitz against Rodgers showed his speed as he was on top of him before he could make a move.

Giants hardly blitzed against the Packers, but I think they might do more of it this week against RGIII. Fewell used to dial up a lot of blitzes against Vick and they were fairly effective against him. You can't let them get comfortable and read what the defense is doing, but the Redskins WRs are less dangerous deep threats than the Packers WRs and taking some gambles to get him off his game might not be such a bad move. When you blitz, you do have to worry about a contain on the other side, but it will be interesting to see how Fewell plays it. Blitz him from his right, in his face and make him run back to the left where you hope Giants can generate some blind side pass rush.

NFC East

After taking a look at the Eagles earlier this week, we can do the same with the other two teams in the division. It seems to me that the Redskins are the better team right now and are the bigger threat to the Giants winning the division this year. I think we also may be looking at the next several years of Redskins being the top rivals of the Giants in the division instead of the Cowboys and Eagles. It's not only because the Redskins beat the Cowboys last week on the road in Dallas, after crushing the Eagles the week before, though that is certainly a part of it. It's also how strong the Redskins looked doing it, forcing the Cowboys to put on a big rally just to come close and make the game respectable. Eagles the week before were never even in the game. It's also about the remaining schedule the Redskins and Cowboys have and the slight advantage the Redskins have in their remaining opponents. Redskins and Cowboys play each other in the last game of the season in Washington (advantage being at home) and have a common opponent in the fast-falling Eagles. In the other 3 games on each team's schedule, the Cowboys have 3 difficult games: Bengals, Steelers (difficult if Big Ben comes back) and the Saints. By comparison, the Redskins have two tough games in the Giants and the Ravens, but have one realtively easier game against the Browns.

Cowboys keep getting key injuries, losing another player this week in their DB-field and there is just an aura about them that they are on the decline. The Redskins conversely, definitely have the feel of a team on the rise with their young dynamic QB leading the way. Jimmy Johnson, on the Fox studio show called RG III the best player in the league. Johnson is not really prone to hyperbole and is a great talent evaluator, so we can't summarily dismiss his opinions. Maybe he wanted to tweak Jerry Jones a little bit, someone he was once close with but one with whom his relationship has disintegrated, specifically over personnel matters. He wanted to send a message to Jerry Jones that the Cowboys are on the decline and not only are the Giants better than his Cowboys, but the window on their current roster is closing fast, because there's now another team in the division that has a better team and a more exciting player.

Whether Johnson is right or not, there's no doubt that until defenses figure out how to neutralize RG III's speed and the fake run, he will be tough to handle.

The Redskins offense looks very formidable and more balanced than what the Giants faced with the Packers last week. Leaving the QB out of the discussion for a minute, the Packers probably have better WRs that the Redskins, but the Redskins have a better OL and a much better running game. Rookie RB Morris looks like a star for them. He ran all over the Giants in the first game and Giants need a big game from their DL this week to stop them. The Redskins defense is not great, but a few tweaks in the offseason to upgrade the defense, add a little more to the offense and with that QB, they could be a force to deal with in the NFC East for the next several years.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wednesday Miscellany

General Wednesday chatter:

If you don't think this is a QB driven league, consider the following. You can argue about exactly who is an elite QB and among the top 5 or 6, who is better than whom, but if you made a list of who the top 5 or 6 QBs in the NFL have been over the last 10 years or so, there's little argument that the list would be: Manning, Manning, Brees, Brady, Rodgers, Roethlisberger. There's also little doubt that Rivers has dropped off the list and that some newcomers knocking on the door, Ryan and Flacco are not quite there yet. So if you stick with that list of 6 top QBs, you might notice that 10 of the last 11 Super Bowls, from 2001 through 2011, have been won by one of these QBs. Enough said.

Kenny Phillips injured his knee again and that is really discouraging to me, considering how careful the Giants were in bringing him back. He was predicted to be out 4 weeks with the original injury, then was kept out 2 weeks extra so he could include the bye week in his rest and rehab. Then he injures the same knee in his first game back? Not good.

I am still bummed out about Andre Brown. I always liked him and thought he had real upside, even back in 2009 when he was first drafted by the Giants in the 4th round. I have talked about my lukewarm feelings for Bradshaw and how I like Brown's style of play better. Bradshaw is a somewhat unconventional RB; he will play hard, twist and turn his body and fight for every yard. His style will let him find yards where there's nothing there. But he will also give up yards when something is there. Brown is bigger and runs harder.

Last year, Antrel Rolle was forced into playing CB over the slot receivers because the Giants were woefully short at CB with all the injuries they suffered. This year, they tried it in the last game because they have an abundance of talent at S when Phillips came back and they like the 3-S alignment. It turns out that Rolle is a very good cover guy on those slot receivers, where their size and speed doesn't overwhelm him, like playing the outside WRs might. If Phillips is out again, they might not be able to play Rolle as the slot cover CB. But he did such a good job, that iif Phillips can't go, I would consider giving Will Hill some snaps at S (not Sash, I just think he's not athletic enough) to release Rolle to play the slot.

Giants still need Nicks to get a little healthier if the passing game is really going to get in gear and if the Giants offense is to progress to reach its potential. He's better, but not all the way back yet.

I have been beating up Diehl on this blog for a while now, but I have to give credit where it's due: he played well against the Packers Sunday night. Maybe he was injured, like the coaches said and he will play a little better the rest of the way through. Unclear how he will handle this injury. We'll see.

In the 4th quarter, I noticed Boothe taking some snaps at C and Cordle moving into his spot and LG. I didn't hear anyone say anything about an injury to Baas, so maybe, with a 4 TD lead,  they were just giving him some rest (he was on the injury report coming into the week with bad elbow).

Late update: to fill the roster shallowness (is that a word?) at RB, Giants signed two RBs: Lumpkin and Torain. Torain used to play for the Redskins, so they may pick his brain a little bit before this upcoming game. I doubt it will help much, because Redskins offense is totally different this year with RGIII at QB than it was last few years. Lumpkin is a bigger body and if he can learn the offense, can be a help in some short yardage plays. Giants short yardage has been poor this year, as it has been last few years; they missed on two 3rd and 1s against the Packers. With Andre Brown out, Giants should spread out the offense and let one of the RBs find a hole instead of trying to blast through with an old school power dive into the line in short yardage.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


I don't like to pick on the Eagles and Cowboys too much, unless it's football season...  or off-season. WTF is going on with the Eagles???? They were nearly everyone's preseason favorite to win the NFC East in a walk, maybe a slight jog, and they have completely fallen apart. Even those that did not cede them the title at least said that they have by far the most talent in the division and the only reason they did not excel the year before as the dream team was that the melange of stars that they compiled needed a year to work together and form a cohesive team. Well, I guess not.

The latest shocking news is that they cut DL-man Jason Babin, who I thought was playing reasonably well for them. Last year he was near the top of the league in sacks, getting 18. This year his numbers are down, but it's still rather a quick hook for a guy that signed a big FA contract going into the 2011 season.

It seems clear that (1) Reid has lost the team, (2) the coaches are not well managed by Reid, if at all and that he does not have his finger on the pulse of the team (3) the team has thrown in the towel and is not trying hard and (4) the owner recognizes that the team is going nowhere and is shedding salary wherever he can to at least save some money here and there. In addition to saving the rest of Babin's salary, the owner fired some advertising, promotional and marketing guys from the front office. That seems really nickel-and-dime-ish if you ask me. I think it has implications for them being able to attract FAs in the future, because players, while they always go for the money, also go for an organization that they think has some class and that they can trust. If they see that they will be cut at the first sign of trouble, that goes to their pocket book also.

The mess with the coaches and specifically the DC was just horrible. First, he hires Castillo as DC who never coached on the defensive side of the ball. Then when Castillo finally figures out the defense after a year of trial and error, and how to call a game, they fire him when the defense is playing fairly well. They promote a DC from the staff, who also was never a DC but at least has been a defensive coach. Almost instantly, the defense went from decent to absolutely horrid and the new DC is taking whacks at his team for being amateurish and uncoachable, surely not something that reflects well on Reid, who took a chance to promote him. Sheesh, what a mess.

As far as Reid himself, I think the feeling about him among the players (and surely the fans) is the same thing that was sometimes said about Herm Edwards: From Monday to Saturday, he's the best coach in football. Seems obvious that he's gone after this year.

If you take a look at some of the personnel decisions that they made, most of the big ones went sour.... big time. They made a big commitment to Vick as the QB and while he is a great athlete, he is a terrible QB. Asomugha looks like a complete bust and they spent a fortune on him. He also had a corollary effect on ruining the secondary, because to make room for him and adjust the style of defense (less zone, more man) that would be more consistent with his skills, they traded Assante Samuel to open things up. Problem is, Asomugha looks like he can't cover anybody and is making Rex Ryan look very smart (or very lucky) for not taking him to play opposite Revis on the Jets. My only guess is that in Oakland, the whole defense stunk and the CB on the opposite side was worse than Asomugha, so opposing offenses never threw at him. I can't prove this, but there seem to be no other plausible explanation, because he was so highly regarded by all experts. Finally, the character in that locker room was awful with a bunch of prima donnas and a collection of high priced FAs combined with home grown players that were underpaid and surely resented some of the divas.

They're going to blow this up at the end of the year and it probably needs blowing up.

Packers Game Review II

The first post on the Packers game looked mostly at the defense. I'll take a little look at the offense now.

It is an enormous difference to the offense and to Eli to have the OL play well and have the WRs actually get open. Nicks is definitely getting back in shape, but don't think he is all the way back - he still does not have that explosion, that burst the makes him real dangerous. We can hope he will continue to improve and get stronger and will be fully healthy by the end of the year. Nicks is interesting - if you put a stopwatch on him and measure his 40 time, you might be unimpressed, but he has great game speed. He just gets open and because he has such great hands, does not have to slow down, come under control or gather himself to catch the ball.

Eli was better, but still made some sloppy throws. He can play better and be a little sharper. Interesting that Chris Plamer, the OC with the Titans and the QB coach that really turned Eli's mechanics around got fired by HC Munchak. I wonder if he would be interested in a second tour of duty with NYG to help Eli and the offense a little bit. He wouldn't have to be QB coach, he could passing offense coordinator.

Cruz had another terrible drop in this game (as did Bradshaw). Is it becoming clear that, as good as Cruz is, it is Nicks that makes the passing offense go and Cruz plays off Nicks, taking advantage of the soft spots in the middle of the field that are opened up when the defense crowds Nicks. It is for this reason that Randle's apparent development is really important to the success of the team. You need 3 threats at WR and Giants have not been consistent with that this year with all the nagging injuries  at WR. Randle made a veteran play on his first TD, slowing down just a hair after he got open to make sure he would keep his feet in bounds and not go out of the end zone when the ball arrived. His second catch, which set up one of the Giants scores was a great physical, athletic play, breaking tackles and bouncing off guys to make some yards.

It was very positive that the Giants scored TD instead of FGs (unless you have Tynes on your fantasy team.) Bennett had some catches, but they are not using him often enough as a deep threat on seam routes as they did earlier in the season.

The OL was very good, even when Diehl was in there. Locklear did well also when Diehl went out with a stinger. Baas is playing better and Boothe is also very solid.

It was a real blow to lose Andre Brown at RB to that broken fibula. I think he was playing better than Bradshaw and provides the bulk, the push and the body type that Bradshaw and Wilson just don't have. Wilson will get more work, but Giants just can't go through the rest of the season with only two RBs. Da'Rel Scott is already on IR, so Giants will have to find someone else. They put Brown on the new "recallable" IR list, which means he can come back for the playoffs if he recovers, but that does not address the immediate need. A few weeks ago, Giants worked out some RBs, Joseph Addai was one of them and they also worked out a RB who had been with the Redskins last year, by the name of Torain. As far as I know, Ryan Grant, who used to be with the Giants and had some success with the Packers the last few years is also available. He was a FA and was holding out for a big contract this off season which he did not get. So he turned down all the offers he felt were insulting to him and did not get a job at all. (Don't use his agent!) He has some talent and would be a good fit for the Giants, assuming he is still in shape.

Packers Game Review I

We would like, as Giants fans, to crow about our team after the thorough thrashing they gave to the Cheeseheads Sunday night at MLS. It was a good win; a great win really, especially considering that the Giants were coming off a few really poorly played games.  There were the two losses to the Bengals and Steelers in which they were soundly beaten and even the game before that, the win against the Cowboys, was gift wrapped and given to them by Romo and the Cowboys, but a game in which the Giants did not play well on either side of the ball. So we would like to say that the Packers were the hottest/best team in the NFC coming into the game, having won five in a row, and the Giants beat them, which means that Giants are the cream of the crop. But some perspective is required.

I don't want to diminish the victory or its importance - it certainly puts the Giants back on the path for playing well and making some noise for the rest of this season. Among the things they did well:  they didn't turn the balll over; they had an effective running game and passing game on offense. On defense they stopped the run of Green Bay well, got after Rodgers with a  great pass rush and forced two turnovers themselves. The pass rush was so strong that McCarthy changed the way he called the game - wanting to protect his QB, he ran the ball much more in the second half even when they were down 3 scores, not wanting to expose his QB and get him killed. Sound thinking, I guess, but if you were at the game, it made it look like the Packers had given up and wanted to make sure they didn't miss their ride back to the airport for the trip back to Wisconsin. All that is good stuff for the Giants, but the interesting thing is that you really have to consider the opponent. I am not saying the Packers stink and this is a meaningless victory. But I am going to quote Rodgers' words in his post game interviews. He said winning five games in a row covers up a lot of the blemishes that are really there and fly under the radar because of the winning streak. Losing a game, he continued, makes you examine those things.

Putting my spin on what that meant: Packers won 5 in a row, that's true, but that does not mean they are unbeatable. No team is perfect, every team has flaws, especially nowadays in the salary cap era, when personnel decisions are not only about talent but also about money. If the opposing team has the makeup to exploit that flaw, they can win the game. If the other team does not have the particular skill or matchup to take advantage of the flaw, the imperfection will be covered up and not exposed. In the case of  the Packers, they have an outstanding QB, maybe the best in the league, but their weakness on offense is their OL. The teams that the Packers played in this winning streak had weak or average defenses and specifically did not have a big pass rush from their DL. They could not exploit the macthup of the weak Packers OL and Rodgers was able to make his throws and move the offense without much disruption. The Giants on the other hand, have strength in their DL and played particularly well in this game - JPP does what he always does, Osi woke up and had a strip sack, Tuck was very effective against the run and putting on some pressure, but Kiwanuka, fast becoming the 2nd best DL-man on the team, was outstanding. So the matchup was great for the Giants - able to take advantage of the Packers weakness. It does not mean that we can crown the Giants and their defense as "back" to the high level they played at the end of last year.

I will say, however that the defense was outstanding and they played well at every position - it was not a DL-centric, DL-dominant defense. The coverage was outstanding in the secondary and the LBs, particularly Blackburn played a very good game. Packers did make some plays and moved the ball a little bit, but a lot of those plays were when Rodgers evaded the rush and made plays that other QBs in the league just would not make. While we should have some perspective, we can take some encouragement in the fact that this was a well played defensive game. Look at it this way - after the first score by the Packers, when Corey Webster got beat deep, the Packers managed only 3 points the rest of the way.

On that play, Webster took his eye off his man, looked back at the QB because he thought Nelson had completed his route and was just sitting on the sideline as a checkdown option. When that happened, Nelson ran his double move, ran up the sideline and beat Webster by 5 yards for the score. It was more a mental mistake by Webster than a physical mistake, getting beaten or overmatched.

I also liked what Fewell did showing the 3 S look. It worked in this game. I have to say that the Giants pass defense is just better, maybe way better with Phillips on the field. Brown played well and Rolle might be the best slot-cover player on the team. It gives the Giants a lot of flexibility how they cover and I liked that Fewell rotated his DBs a little bit, keeping them fresh, giving different looks to Rodgers and keeping them all "in the game" mentally. I love Will Hill, though he did not get too many snaps, and think he will be a real good player in the future.

The big disappointment for this defense is that marvin Austin is just not playing. Kuhn beat him out for playing time and now that Kuhn is out for the season, he still is not getting many reps. The DT rotation seems to be Linval Joseph, Canty, Bernard and Fewell is filling in with Tuck, occasionally JPP and Kiwanuka getting a lot of snaps at DT.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The offense

In case you thought I was incorrect in my analysis of the Giants offensive problems, laying the blame first on the WRs not winning their battles and getting separation from their defenders, second on the OL not holding up and finally on Eli playing a little soft, please read this article by Prisco of CBS Sports. He did the film analysis and came to the exact same conclusions I did. The timing between Eli and his WRs could be better and Eli did force some throws, but the main problem shows up on film: nobody's getting open.

Prisco even makes mention of the fact that the Bengals only rushed 4 and kept 7 in coverage, making it harder to throw; but that should have made it easier to run. Giants aren't doing that either.

What needs fixing

The OL needs to play better. The coaches say Diehl was hurt and is now getting healthier which explains his spottty performance. I don't buy it, since he was playing poorly before he got hurt and Beatty came in at LT. But it does show that the coaches have evaluated Diehl accurately and do not have blinders on. The first step in fixing a problem is recognizing that one exists in the first place. They see that he is not playing well. It will be interesting to see if they give him another chance and consider replacing him after this week or even midgame if he is doing poorly. Or if they pull the trigger now off of the bye week and put Locklear in to replace Diehl at RT. It is an absolute requirement to upgrade the OL in the off-season. Locklear is decent, but is older and is not the long term answer at RT. Boothe is solid, and Baas is OK, but why can't the Giants have a stud somewhere in the OL?

Parenthetically, the coaches said, when they gave Diehl his job back that a player can't lose his starting position through injury. What a load of garbage. First of all, it is up to the coaches to put the best team out there and not follow some theoretical set of unwritten rules to keep veterans happy. Second of all, how did that rule get applied when Tom Brady took Drew Bledsoe's job up in New England a few years back? You remember - Bledsoe got hammered with a serious chest injury that kept him out a long time (8 or 9 weeks maybe?) and Brady replaced him and excelled.  Bledsoe never got his job back and Brady, well... is Brady. He won his first Super Bowl that year. Want another example - how did this 'can't lose your job because of injury' thing work out for Wally Pipp and Lou Gehrig ?

Stevie Brown has made some plays at S, but also got beat deep several times because he bit on underneath routes, gambling and hoping to make another big play, giving up his deep coverage responsibility. That is what happened on the blown coverage on AJ Green in the Bengals game. Webster passed him off to Brown expecting deep help, but Brown misread the play and was looking to come up on a shorter route. Even though Brown has made some plays, I would try to work Phillips back into the mix.

At WR, Giants hope Nicks will return to form, but if he doesn't, Giants just can't keep the status quo. They have to get some speed in the lineup, perhaps with Jernigan and David Wilson at RB. Barden and Randle should get some snaps - anything to open things up. Giants should also change subtly their route combinations and selections - they should add a few more posts and seams and use fewer short hooks and underneath routes, just as a change of pace. A double move off of a back shoulder fade would also be a big play, though it does require time to develop and good protection from the OL.

Andre Brown has been playing better than Bradshaw and I would not mind seeing Brown and Wilson in there with Bradshaw's role diminished. He took a big helmet-to-helmet hit in that Bengals game and looked dazed to me on the bench. I haven't heard anything about him getting a concussion or being out, but the Giants start practicing on Wednesday and we may hear then. He also has continuing problems with his ankles and feet and the early report is that he will not practice or will be limited in Wednesdays practice.

Back to the WRs: Hixon has an ankle problem and may not play.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

More Bengals game

Eli did not have a good game, there's no doubt about that. His two INTs were both bad mistakes. However, on both of these plays he was rushed and had his jersey grabbed, which is definitely on the OL to give him better protection. If it was just these two plays where the protection broke down, I could give the OL a pass. But the protection was poor all day with some sacks and lots of pressure. The mistake Eli made on these INTs was trying to make a play when there was nothing there. He should have taken the sack and tried on the next series to get some offense going. Eli plays aggressively, trying to make plays, sometimes when there's just a small chance of getting it done. This is what makes him good and I don't want to lose that mentality, but it also gets him in trouble at times.

The combination of poor OL protection and WRs not getting separation is deadly to the offense. The QB has to hold the ball a bit longer waiting for someone to get open, but with poor protection, there are few opportunities to do that. I don't want to sound like an Eli apologist, which I sometimes feel like I do in this blog, but let's have some perspective. Eli didn't go from someone who threw for nearly 5,000 yards last year and for 500 yards in a game this year into someone who is inaccurate and makes bad decisions in a 2 or 3 week span. The whole offense has to improve including Eli.

As far as WRs not getting separation, I think a big part of it is Nicks being hurt and not having the explosiveness from the line of scrimmage. With Nicks slowed down, they can play him aggressively and the easy pitch-and-catch underneath routes that allows the offense to move the chains are not there. Every route has to be perfectly run and perfectly thrown. With Nicks not at full strength, not getting as much attention from the DBs, the opposing defense can instead focus on Cruz and take away what he does well. Giants need to have some deep threats on the field to open up the running game and the underneath routes. Is it possible that Cruz is a great # 2 WR but needs a # 1 opposite him in order to excel? It may also be possible that the Giants miss Mannigham more than we thought they would. Manningham may have made occasional mistakes, but he did have speed, could make plays and opened the field because he was a threat. We thought that between Hixon, Randle, Barden and Jernigan there would be enough there to fill the void of Manningham's departure. Jernigan hasn't seen the field and while Hixon has had his moments, he is not the pure burner that they need. The hope is that with the bye week off, Nicks has some time to get healthy and will return to form. If not, Giants should try Jernigan and maybe even get Beckum in the game for some seam routes. The big addition has to be getting Wilson in the games more. Even though he is at RB instead of WR, using him creatively could open things up.

Defenses have figured the Giants offense out. The bye week may have come at just the right time, if the Giants coaches can change things up a bit and respond to what defense are doing to the offense.

The running game has been pretty inconsistent. When defense sits back in the 2-deep zone, it should mean that the Giants can run the ball against the soft box. But the OL has not done it. The weak spot has been Diehl and it will be interesting to see if he improves at RT or if the Giants coaches have to bite the bullet and move Locklear back in at his spot.

I really didn't love Coughlin calling Eli out over his two INTs and calling the plays stupid, silly or words to that effect. He should just shut up and realize that as much as he (Coughlin) has done for him (Eli), Eli has done way more for Coughlin's legacy. If Coughlin gets into the HOF as a 2-time SB winning coach, he will be doing so on Eli's broad shoulders. Take a lesson from Eli - never throw anyone under the bus, especially your franchise QB.

I heard Eli slip up in a post game press conference and say that they have to come up with a slightly different plan for responding to how defenses have been playing them lately. He quickly backtracked and passed over it, not wanting to cast aspersions on the Giants coaches, but I heard it clearly and it confirms what I've been saying on this blog.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Bengals Game review I

This is the bye week, so there's plenty of time to analyze what's going on with this team until the next game, which we will certainly do on this blog. Before I get to that in later posts, let's spend some time analyzing the specific game itself, without digressing too much to the reasons the Giants are slumping.

The recent woes of giving up big plays on defense (Giants are near the bottom of the league in giving up plays >20 yards) showed up on the first drive when AJ Green, who is an incredibly impressive WR, maybe better than Megatron, was left alone on a badly blown coverage by the Giants and scored in a walk. I don't know what's worse - DBs getting beat physically by superior players or DBs making mistake after mistake, miscommunication is what the players call it, and allowing painfully easy TDs. I guess if they are getting beat physically, there's little hope for improvement. If opponents are bigger, stronger, faster, you have little recipe to improve. But if you have blown coverages and miscommunication, there is at least hope that the players will stop making mistakes and clean things up. This seems to be what happened last year when, in addition to the benefit of some good players coming back from injury, the secondary definitely tightened things up and made fewer mistakes down the stretch. When players keep making these mistakes, you could question: is it because they are stupid, uncoachable players or is it because the coaching is not very good. That was a rhetorical question, I hope you're not thinking of giving an answer. It is theoretically possible that you could have a particular assembly of players on a team that are just not good team players. But since the Giants have won with this group before, that is obviously not the case. I am going to put this on the coach. Fewell is just not good at coming up with schemes or disguising the defense (Giants never fool anybody on defense), is not very good at calling a game (calls for risky blitzes and predictable defenses at the wrong times) and apparently is not very good at tutoring his players (players keep making all these mistakes.

The second more worrisome recent problem is not moving the ball on offense and not scoring TDs in the red zone, settling for FGs. This happened twice in the first half; once when the Giants recovered a fumbled punt and were set up inside the Bengals 30. Giants moved it down to the 5 but settled for a FG, because of a predictable call by Gilbride, throwing a swing pass to Bradshaw and asking him to making someone miss. This may work out near midfield when the S group is back defending the deep ball. But when all 11 defenders are up within 5 yards of the play, it has little chance for success.  Then, trailing 17-3 before the half, Giants moved it about 70 yards inside the Bengals 10, Eli threw a perfect pass to Bennet who did not keep his feet in bounds and Giants were down 17-6 at the half when it could/should have easily been 17-14 or at least 17-10.

Then in the second half the wheels fell off because of all the turnovers. After an exchange of punts and some good defense, Giants started a drive near midfield. After a pass and a few effective runs, Giants moved the ball to around the 10 and Bradshaw fumbled. That absolutely took the steam out of the team. It just added to the feeling that nothing was going right - even when the team makes some positive plays and has a chance to get back in the game, something goes wrong to mess it up. A TD or even a FG there gets the Giants right back in the game. Consider: as much as it looked like the Giants were being dominated to that point in the game - some decent red zone production could have had the Giants ahead 21-17 instead of down 17-6. The next two possessions were two awful INTs by Eli, both when he was getting hit and pressured. He tried to throw the ball away on the first one and complete a desperation throw under pressure on the second. They were both bad decisions by Eli - he should have just taken the sacks - but that was just the conclusion of the play. The reason the play ended that way is because the OL was getting hammered all day long by the Bengals DL. It's not just the 4 sacks, it was the constant pressure which resulted in these turnovers and is a main contributor to the lack of offensive productivity.

I will do some more analysis of what's wrong with the offense in later posts, but for now, realize that the OL, especially the RT Diehl is a huge problem for this team. I said coming into the game that giving Diehl his starting RT job back was a mistake - Locklear was playing OK and he had replaced Diehl who was playing poorly when he was in there. Maybe the Giants don't feel Locklear has enough tread left on the tire to start all season long, but from a pure productivity standpoint, this sure looks like a situation where the Giants tried to fix something that wasn't broken. It may not have been broken before, but it sure looks like it's broken now.

After all that, as much as everything went wrong for the Giants, if a few things broke differently, Giants could have won this game.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Steelers Game Review

This was a complete domination by the Steelers. It may be difficult to accept that, because after all, the Giants lost only by 4 points and in fact they were ahead by 10 going into the 4th quarter. But with every football game, you have to look beyond the scores and stats to see what actually happened. Giants were ahead 20-10 going into the 4th quarter, but many of the points were gifts. One was a fumble recovery for TD by Boley on a questionable fumble/forward pass call by the refs. Giants also got a FG after an INT by Webster of a terrible throw by Big Ben. In fact the other TD that the Giants got was somewhat tainted also, because Eli threw a ball behind Cruz at the goal line that was almost picked and would have left the Giants trying a FG. But Cruz got hit late, Giants got a first down on the personal foul and came away with a TD that should have been a FG. That kind of tells you that the offense was pretty poor. Steelers defense is pretty good, but not overwhelming and Giants should have been more productive.

On the defensive side of the ball, Giants did get some turnovers and some stops, but they gave up 150 yards rushing and could not stop the Steelers in 4th quarter when they won the game with two TD drives. ST were horrible also giving up field position on kickoff returns and one big punt return all night long. Giants were in the game on the scoreboard, but were spanked badly in every phase.

Everyone is blaming Eli for the offensive woes and I am not going to be blind and say he's playing great, but it is equally obtuse to say that the offensive problems in the last two games are all on Eli's shoulders. There are two components that are primarily breaking down: the WRs and the OL. I think the Cowboys found a few things out about Giants offense  - when Nicks is hurting, they don't have the consistent deep play threat and if you play them physically at the line of scrimmage, they won't get separation and make themselves good targets even for the short balls that gets the offense going and keeps the chains moving. Furthermore, when you jam the WRs and play press coverage, that gives the WRs a chance to go deep if they get a good release off the line and beat the man coverage. But the Cowboys played a lot of 2 deep S coverage protecting against deep balls. So why doesn't every defense do this every game against every team? Because when you commit to having two S deep and match up man on the WRs, it means you can never drop a S down low to the line of scrimmage and have only 7 guys "in the box" to stop the run. If the TE is split out wide, you may only have 6. This is an invitation for the opposing offense to run the ball, but the OL has not been effective at blasting the soft box and opening up holes consistently for the running game. Steelers did a lot of the same thing, playing tight press man-to-man coverage and not giving any room to the WRs. There was simply no separation for the Giants WRs and Eli often had nowhere to go with the ball.

The way to fix it (aside from motivating the WRs and OL to play better) is to be creative with throws to other targets: Wilson/Brown/Bradshaw out of the backfield, and I'm not talking about the hitch/screen that the Giants run that hasn't worked in the last 3 years against any decent defense. I am talking about some wheel routes or even seam routes to take advantage of their speed. I would also make more use of the TE down the field - Bennet can run and now Beckum is back active again also.

As far as the OL is concerned, there is one obvious thing that needs to be fixed. Locklear has to get back at RT to replace Diehl. The OL was doing pretty well and Locklear was playing OK at RT after Diehl went down. Now that Diehl has reclaimed his spot, the OL has regressed and Diehl is playing poorly. he's giving up pressures in the passing game very week and not blocking well in the running game. Here too, defenses have read this and are loading up to stop the run to the left side of the offense, because it has been more effective than when they run behind Diehl. You know the expression: if it ain't broke don't fix it. Well, it wasn't broke before, but it seems to be now.

Maybe when Nicks gets healthy, regains his speed and elusiveness things will look better, but I want to see better play from the offense in the runa nd the passing game.

On defense, the DL had good pass rush last week but was poor against the run. Hosley has talent but is getting beaten for some big plays every week. Fewell doesn't know how to call a agame and is leaving him isolated too often. (Thing back to the Moss TD in the Redskins game three weeks ago - that was Hosley he beat and there was no S help behind him). He will be a good palyer for the Giants but is struggling now. There are still too many miscommunications, blown coverages and breakdowns for the Giants secondary. That is on the coach to coach 'em up as much as it is on the players to pay attention.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Looking ahead to the Steelers

First a few interesting notes about Giants injuries:

Blackburn is out of practice with a hamstring and they can take a little while to heal. He may not be ready so it looks like Herzlich will get a start this week against the Steelers. It might be a good match up since the Steelers have a very good TE in Heath Miller who Big Ben will undoubtedly target after Witten's big game last week against Giants secondary. Herzlich is more athletic and might do a better job in pass coverage. Of course the MLB comes off the field when Giants go to nickel coverage and the Steelers play a lot of 3-WR looks, so Herzlich may not get as much ice time as we think.

In a slightly surprising move, Diehl has reclaimed his starting RT job and Locklear is moving to the bench. Locklear has been playing fairly well, though certainly not great. But Diehl was not playing well at all, IMO when he was healthy. The OL has been going pretty well, I don't know why the Giants coaches would try to fix what ain't broken.

Kenny Phillips has been practicing fully this week and may be ready to come back. Rolle is still not practicing with his concussion symptoms but also may be ready to play by Sunday. This means that Stevie Brown may make his way back to the bench. It makes perfect sense: why shouldn't the Giants bench the best secondary player they've had this year. (???) Will Hill might come back soon also, this is the last week of his suspension. I really think with the emergence of Brown that Tyler Sash's roster spot might be in jeopardy, although with the way Reese's draft picks get protected, it might be Tryon that goes instead.

Steelers can't get a hotel for their players because of lack of hotel space due to hurricane Katrina, er I mean Sandy, so they're flying in Sunday morning. (If NBA commish David Stern can do it, so can I.)  I don't know what the big fuss is; business people do this all the time..... fly in to a city in the morning, have their meetings and fly back at night.

Giants need their WRs to play better than they have last two weeks. Cowboys DBs got away with a lot of holding last week, but still the Giants WRs have to win their one on one battles to give Eli some targets to throw to. It will be interesting to see if the league tries to copy the tactic that the Cowboys used against the Giants WRs. We'll see starting this Sunday. To defeat that tactic, Giants have to get a good release off the line and take some shots deep. This has been hard to do with Nicks somewhat limited;the hope is that he will get healthier week by week. Giants also need to use their TE in the middle of the field to attack the S position and open things up for the WRs. With Polamalu out this is particularly important. Pascoe appears injured so we may get a first real sighting of rookie TE Adrien Robinson, who has only been dressed for games two weeks this year and has seen the field for only a few snaps. 

Steelers have a very good offense and their QB, always a very good player, is playing particularly well this year, apparently adapting well to the new OC's offense. This will be a real test for Giants defense. Steelers defense is ranked high statistically, so the Steelers should be a real tough match up, with both a proficient offense and a strong defense. However, they are 4-3 in a weaker AFC conference for a reason. For one thing, defensive statistics can be misleading, because they are so dependent on the overall flow of the game. We'll have to see how they do Sunday.

One holdover note from the Cowboys game: Canty played really well and the Giants defense badly missed him when he was out - I forgot how good he really was.  He will be very important against the Steelers that have some questions about their interior OL. We all expected Marvin Austin to be a star and he has been barely seen, with Markus Kuhn getting in on the regular DL rotation and Austin hardly playing. When Bernard comes back and the Giants have Canty, Joseph, Bernard and Kuhn, Austin's role will diminish even more.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Cowboys game review II

A few other observations about the game, some courtesy of my friend Ray:

Weatherford had an outstanding game with a net of 46.5 yards punting. He should also get some credit for the Bryant fumble, since he kicked it way over his head, made Bryant chase back for it to try a very difficult catch which he bobbled, never really secured and gave the Giants punt coverage team a chance to get downfield for the strip. Weatherford has been having an outstanding season; in fact he was excellent last year also, but this year he seems to be even better with more length to his punts. Jets genius ST coach Mike Westhoff (blocked punt, blocked FG and onside kick recovery against his unit by Dolphins last week) let him go two years ago and in fact really kicked him to the curb when he did so. He could have said something vanilla or nondescript when asked why they cut him, like we decided to go in a different direction. Instead, he went out of his way to explicitly say that there were performance issues, meaning he was just not a good punter. Since then, Weatherford has been excellent for the Giants and the Jets have had trouble finding a decent, consistent punter.

Some notes and analysis on the Bryant TD/reversal: I did not get a look at the entire field, but it looked like the Giants were not in the normal cover-2 shell that you would expect them to be at that point in the game. I say this because I saw S Sash underneath and Webster was running deep with Bryant. If they were in cover-2, Bryant would have had a S giving help on top. Witten stayed in to block and give max protect, and Giants did not blitz, which explains why Romo had time to throw. Bryant ran a double move on his side, out and up, to the sideline and then deep. With 16 seconds left in the game, it's hard to understand why Webster bit on the fake and let Bryant get behind him, but he did. Coe who was deep in the middle of the field came over to try and deflect the ball, had a clear shot at it but just whiffed on it. With all those things defensively going wrong for the Giants, it was lucky that Bryant has long fingers.

Speaking about defensive coaching - did you notice Coughlin running down the sidleline with about 1:30 left to call a timeout? It seems to me that Coughlin didn't like the defensive play call (it looked like Giants were showing blitz) and he was overruling the DC Fewell. Maybe the Giants just weren't lined up right on defense, but either way, that is DC Fewell's responsibility.

Romo threw 4 picks, but I have to say that not all were his fault. On the first by Stevie Brown, Bryant did not run a good route. The second was a bad decision/throw by Romo and a good play by Webster. The third was a great play by JPP, but Romo should get some blame. On his last pick, it was 4th down, he was being chased by the defense and had to make a low probability throw. If he throws it away, Giants get the ball anyway, so that was not a damaging INT. But the truth is Romo is a gambler and makes throws of high risk. Breaking down a particular throw and absolving him of blame misses the point. He takes chances, throwing some high risk passes and from a simple probability point of view, that results in INTs and some great plays.

This was an enormous swing game for the Giants, but mostly for the Cowboys. If the 'Boys had won they would be only 1 game behind the Giants in the loss column and would hold the tiebreaker of head-to-head sweep against them. Now, instead, the Giants are 2 up in the loss column and even in the head-to-head tiebreaker. With the Giants difficult schedule coming up, they could use the padding to their lead.

A note about schedule: the schedule for all the teams in the NFC East (as it is for every division) has 14 games that are identical for every team in the division and the remaining 2 that vary from team to team based on previous year's standings. Every team in the NFC East plays each other (6 games) and this year plays all 4 teams in the NFC South and the AFC North respectively. There are 2 games that are different for each team and determine whether one team's schedule is harder than the others. Each team in NFC East plays the team in the NFC West and the NFC North that finished in the same spot in the standings as they did last year. Let's call these games the "variable" games. Specifically, Giants play 49ers and Packers because they finished first in their divisions as the Giants did in theirs. The point that I am getting to is that the Cowboys already played their "variable" games against the Bears and the Seahawks and lost both. Similarly, the Eagles played both of their variable games against the Cardinals and Lions and also lost both. The Giants already won one of their variable games against the 49ers and still have the Packers at home. But even if they lose that game, they will be 1-up on the Cowboys and Eagles in those variable games and the rest of the schedule is identical. Giants may have a bunch of tough games in a row, but they have weathered the variable part of their schedule relative to their NFC East opponents.

One more interesting schedule note (thanks again to Ray for this one): Every intradivision game in the NFC East so far this season has involved the Giants. No NFC East played any other NFC East team this year, aside from NYG. This may be a simple quirk in the schedule, but it benefits the Giants. Because those NFC East teams will be playing each other, assuming no single team sweeps, they will all pile up some losses in their games, making the Giants first place position stronger.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Cowboys review I

Sorry for being incommunicado last few days since the Cowboys game - the storm knocked out my power and I was locked up in my house, so couldn't even update the blog from elsewhere. This is my first day out of the house with access to a computer, so here goes.

Watching the game, first feeling the excitement of embarrassing the Cowboys in the first qtr, taking that 23-0 lead was positively euphoric. Then watching the Cowboys creep back into the game 23-10 at halftime and seeing their offense take apart the Giants defense with two TDs and take the 24-23 lead in the 3rd quarter was dismal, or whatever the opposite of euphoric is. When the Giants ended up winning and barely holding onto the game with the call reversal of the Bryant TD, I think all Giants fans were left somewhat puzzled and perplexed, not knowing how to feel. On the simple, superficial level, all we want is a win, especially against America's Team. But on the other side of the coin, we want to see the Giants play well, and want to see harbingers of success for the rest of the season and into the playoffs. When Giants secondary was trashed for 437 yards passing and misplayed the ball to Bryant on the pass into the end zone with 10 seconds left in the game, we are all feeling lucky that the Giants won. Lucky is not what we want - we want to feel that the Giants are good. The initial reaction is that you can't feel confident that Giants will have an overly successful season if they don't fix some things. They need to play better pass defense; need to be more efficient scoring TDs instead of settling for FGs from the red zone and need to be a little sharper in the passing game. (Those last two items are surely related.) We want harbingers of success, not omens for failure, regardless of the results of one particular game.  I am less worried about the passing offense than the defense; the passing offense is more proven and the defense has some unknowns. When watching the game live and feeling the dread of Giants blowing the lead, things seemed much worse than they really were. When I watched the game again the next day (before my power went out) things did not look as bad as they seemed when I was watching it live and getting caught up in the moment.

Some comments:
I hate to complain about officating and make it the focus of the post game analysis, but in this game it was such a central factor, that I just have to raise it to the top of the list. When you want to nail or blame the refs, generally you complain about a call here or there and highlight one or two calls as game changers. For example, go back a few years to the Vinny Testaverde call where he was granted a TD on a scramble and clearly did not cross the goal line - the call that inspired the rebirth of video replay. Or consider the call earlier this year that ended the Packers-Seahawks game with the TD on what the refs ruled was shared possession that ended the game. It might be fair to single out those plays, but you could argue that there may have been other calls in those games that went the opposite way for the other team that equaled things out, even though those were scoring plays that apparently decided the game. In this Cowboys game, I am not talking about an individual call here and there, I am talking about fundamentally how the game was played and how the refs called it. The Cowboys strategy was to play very physical man-to-man underneath coverage on the Giants WRs and dare them to go deep in the passing game where two S were sitting back in a cover-2 zone. Not a bad strategy, since it worked well in the first game. It particularly worked well in the first game because replacement refs let the Cowboy CBs get away with lots of holding making it even more effective. Well, in this game, the Cowboys CBs were holding and illegally contacting the Giants WRs all game long and did not get called for a single foul for illegal contact, holding or PI. By contrast, the Giants DBs played a lot of zone and every time they laid a finger on a Cowboys DB, they got called for a penalty. Therefore, it is not just a particular call that went against the Giants, but the entire way the refs called the game was inequitable, leading to fundamental ineffectiveness and lack of productivity in the Giants passing game and leading to many more chances and open field for the Cowboys passing game. One particular example was on the Cowboys penultimate drive, the one ending with the second Stevie Brown INT. On that drive, J Tuck got in for a great sack against Romo, but the refs called holding by Hosley against Austin nullifying the sack and giving the Cowboys a new set of downs. Instead of 3rd and 19 it was 1st and 10. The call was outrageously bad, even by the double standard the refs set for this game. Football is all about field position and having chances to make plays. The Cowboys moved the ball closer to the Giants goal, and had several more tries to score, even though the Giants stopped that particular drive. Conversely, Cruz (twice), Bennet, Nicks and Hixon were clearly held on some key third down plays, causing them to miss the ball and in Hixon's case, fall short of the first down marker after the catch. It's one thing to miss a call here or there but it is another thing to fundamentally call the game differently for one team versus the other directly influencing the flow of the game.

Even with that, the Giants WRs had some uncharacteristic drops. Cruz dropped one on the sideline that was not as easy a catch as it looked, because his vision may have been blocked by the defender in front of him, who Eli had to clear to get it to him. It was an amazing throw by Eli. The worst drop was the one by Bennet at the goal line. Eli hit him for an underneath route on 3rd down that would have been a first down at the 1 yard line. Bennet caught it, but then rolled over trying to protect the ball and dropped it. Giants then kicked a FG to make the score 16-0.

The DL is starting to gain some rhythm. They had 4 sacks and one more taken away by the poor penalty call against Hosley referenced above. But more than that, they had good pressure all day on Romo forcing some of those bad throws and turnovers. It may have looked like there were some times where Romo was standing back there with lots of time. But that is somewhat misleading, since he did throw 62 passes, so of course there will be some times where his OL does a good job. The other thing to remember about all the passing yardage that Romo compiled against the Giants defense was this same statistic that he threw 62 times. The most important single statistic for measuring a passing game is yards-per-attempt. Even though Romo threw for all those yards, his yards-per-attempt was a very average 7.04 yards. This is not a bad number, but it is far from spectacular, right around the league average. Add in his 4 INTs, and Giants pass defense was not as bad as the yardage indicated. That said, I would still like to see the pass defense get better. There were several times where there was a blown coverage in the secondary and poor execution in the zone. Ben Roethlisberger's eyes are lighting up to hit his TE Heath Miller based on the way the Giants couldn't stop Witten. But I think the talent is there to get better if Fewell can figure it out.

More on the Cowboys game later this week.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Cowboys look ahead II

Cowboys played a lot of man-underneath, cover-2 zone-on-top and it was very effective in game 1. The Cowboys CBs were very aggressive with the Giants WRs, knowing that they had deep help if they got beat. Perhaps they got a little advantage with this plan, because it was replacements refs calling the game and they let the DBs get away with more holding than the regular refs did. But the Cowboys CBs did a good job, especially considering that their DL beat the Giants OL and put pressure on Eli. They also did a good job stopping the run, resulting in lean output from the Giants offense. Several things have changed since then - the Giants OL has really improved, providing better run blocking and pass protection. Cowboys front 7 has lost some important players, particularly Sean Lee, their leading tackler and fastest LB. If Cowboys stick with their man-underneath cover-2, Giants will have to run the ball against it. But they will have to move through the air also and Martellus Bennet becomes an important target, because he will be matched up against a LB, where the Cowboys are slower because of absence of Lee. Giants should also go to a lot of 3 and 4 WR packages to challenge the Cowboys safeties that are not as strong as their CBs. If the Giants are going to resort to their running game because of Cowboys scheme, they should get Wilson on the field some. Running with the threat of a long run is much more effective than 3 yards and a cloud of field turf.

Offense is where I am worried about the Cowboys. We have the image of the Giants defense, especially the DL being a swarming, powerful, dominant group, but they have not played that way through the first 7 games of the season. I don't know if he's hurt or just showing his age, but Justin Tuck, though playing pretty well, is not the dominant force he was a few years ago. I was bored last night and popped in a DVD I made of one of the Giants games from 2009. That was far from a great season for the Giants, but Tuck was all over the field - he was nearly unblockable. I am not worried about sacks and statistics, but he just doesn't seem to be the formidable presence he was a few years ago. He certainly regained his form last year in the last 2 games of the year and the playoff run, so maybe he still has it in him. But he just doesn't look as strong right now - that allows the opposing OL to double JPP and slide the protection to that side without worrying about having to provide help on Tuck's side also. It may not be a coincidence that the Giants DL best game of the year was against the 49ers when Kiwanuka took more snaps in the DL instead of at LB and Tuck sat a little bit more. If the Giants DL does not put pressure on Cowboys, Romo has the ability and the skill position players available to him to play a big game and put up some points. He was excellent in the first game. Of course, the Giants DL has gotten a bit better since then, Corey Webster has been playing better and with both Prince A as well as Hosley on the field now, two of the CBs that played in that Dallas game, Tryon and Coe, that got picked on by Romo for the big plays all night long, are no longer in the regular DB rotation. Still - now would be a good week to see if there's any life left in this defense, if they can be dominant and not just pretty good, because they are not playing up to their resume and their expectations so far. Cowboys OL has been doing pretty well despite some injuries and question marks. They completely controlled the Ravens game two weeks ago running for 227 yards. They lost at the end because of some poor clock management and coaching in the closing minute but should have won the game. Last week they ran for only 85 yards against the Bucs, but Giants had trouble running against the Bucs also - they play good run defense. For the Cowboys, their best runner, DaMarco Murray is out and Felix Jones is nicked up but will probably play. Giants need a good game out of their DL and it has been up and down lately.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Look ahead to the Cowboys I

It's always a big exciting game when Giants and Cowboys tangle, whether it's up in the Northeast or down in Big D. It is definitely interesting how things have changed over the last few years in the relative standing of the two teams. In the early years of Eli's career, from 2004 through 2007, it was the Cowboys that were the dominant team in the NFL. Romo was the up and coming young stud, they had a huge, powerful OL with bruising Marion Barber and speedy Julius Jones at RB, a younger, faster Witten at TE. Most of all, they had dangerous WRs in TO, Terry Glenn and Miles Austin. TO has made himself a cartoon character nowadays, so we may tend to forget how dominant he was when he was at his prime. He was a tremendous athlete who, though he did drop a few balls, could run past every DB and overpower them with his size as well. He was the focus of every defense that played them and therefore opened things up for other players on the offense. In 2007, Giants lost twice during the regular season to the Cowboys and they put up 86 points in those two games, shredding a strong Giants defense. Cowboys were 13-3 that season, the #1 seed in the NFC and Giants were upstarts, hadn't yet won a playoff game and were trying to establish their QB as a legitimate player and one who they hoped one day could be a championship QB. When the Giants beat the Cowboys in the playoffs that year and went on to win the Super Bowl, things seemed to change. Parcells was no longer there to guide the drafting and player selection and while the Cowboys still have a lot of good players, and Romo is still a very good QB, it is the Giants that are widely considered to be the stronger team with two rings in the last 5 years and legitimate championship aspirations. Eli has the pedigree with his superlative play and great offensive weapons, while Romo is now in the position of defending himself to prove he is ring-worthy. It is interesting how the tables have turned a bit.

Having said that, this will be far from an easy game for the Giants as we saw the first week of the season where the Cowboys really controlled the game on both sides of the line of scrimmage. However, since that first week, the fortunes of both teams have turned a little bit. Giants are 5-1 since that opener, including a few easy wins against the weaker teams in the NFL, a strong statement win against the 49ers, one of the NFC's elite teams and a gritty win last week against a dangerous Redskins team. Cowboys, on the other hand, have been 2-3 since the opener with their two wins coming against below .500 teams Carolina and Tampa Bay. When they played the > .500 teams in the league, they are 0-3, losing big to the Bears and Seahawks, and fighting the Ravens hard before losing 31-29. None of that means that the Giants will win, but it does reveal something about the relative strengths of the teams.

NFL games are often all about matchups and there are some tough matchups for the Giants to deal with in this game. Specifically, the Cowboys front 7 is strong and really controlled the Giants OL in the season opener. Sean Lee is out now and the Giants OL has stabilized somewhat with the addition of Beatty to the starting lineup, but Ware, Spenser and Ratliff are tough to handle and can disrupt the Giants offense. If Giants OL can control the Cowboys DL, they will have a chance to be successful offensively. Cowboys in first game played a lot of conservative man-under, cover-2 defense, which blunts the threat of the deep pass and challenges the opposing offense to run the ball. Giants OL could not run the ball, so the offense was not very effective. Additionally, the Giants OL did not pass block well leaving a lot of pressure on Eli making it even harder to be productive offensively. Giants OL has improved since then, but handling the Dallas front is a big challenge.

More on game strategy later this week.