Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Giants: 2007 vs. 2011

It's so hard to come up with something fresh to write about on this blog with all the media coverage that the Super Bowl generates. This one, in particular, is probably generating even more attention than most of the others, because New York, after all,  is the media capital of the world and the fact that this game is the rematch of the 2007 Super Bowl is a compelling story. It's been four years since that game, so it's hard to remember and frame exactly how we Giants fans felt going into that game. Let's remember the setting - Brady and the Pats were the absolute stuff (euphemism). The team was undefeated having won their entire regular season, gotten a bye in the first round and won their two playoff games fairly easily, if not with as much dominance as they showed during the regular season. The thing about that Patriots team, is that not only did they win all 16 games during their regular season, but they absolutely destroyed most of the teams they played. They scored a record 589 points for the season and Brady broke the single season record for most TD passes at 50. That's incredible - an average of more than 3 per game. They gave up 274 points the entire season, the fourth stingiest defense in terms of points allowed in the entire NFL. This means that their average margin of victory was 15 points, scoring 32 per game and giving up 17.  Their playoff wins were solid, beating the Jaguars by 11 and the Chargers by 9, though not runaways.

By contrast, the Giants had a slightly above average season, going 10-6. They were somewhat up and down, playing some poor games during the year and requiring a win against the Bills (7-9) in week 16 to the secure the playoff berth. They played a solid game in week 17 against the Patriots trying to end their perfect season, but lost 38-35. With that contrast in performance and style, the logic went, there was no way the Giants could beat the Patriots.

Giants had a good opening round playoff win against the Bucs but then barely beat the Cowboys and Packers in the next two rounds. Giants needed an INT in overtime to beat the Packers and had to sweat out a last minute throw into the end zone by Romo as an attempt for the winning TD to come away with the win against the Cowboys. They were close game that could have gone either way, but the Giants prevailed in both by the narrowest of margins. I remember thinking before the game that, while anything could happen, deep down I thought the Giants would lose and I just hoped they could make a game of it, not embarrass the franchise and give Eli a chance to grow through the experience of the game. They were playing with house money now, having advanced beyond where anyone thought they would and I realistically did not think they could win. So much so, that when the Giants scored the TD early in the 4th to take a 10-7 lead in the game, my brother called me and asked: "do you think we have a chance". The thought really never entered my mind either, but when I was prompted by that question, I thought and I said: "Look, when you have a lead in the 4th quarter, no matter how good the opponent is, of course you have a chance". Saying that out loud and rationally thinking it, rather than just viscerally feeling it was a revelation to me. I repeated it to myself aloud as if surprising myself with this newly discovered fact. Of course we have a chance to win. Eli, Tyree, Paxico.... the rest is history.

The interesting thing though, is how different the team's performance has been this year in comparison. The regular seasons were somewhat similar - Giants had a mediocre regular season and needed some late season victories to sneak into the playoffs. In 2007 Giants were a wild card and this year a divisional winner, but both teams clinched late, needing late season wins to secure a playoff berth. But their performance in the playoffs - at least so far - was quite different. Eli II is much better than Eli I. He is now a better pure passer, with better footwork, more pace on the ball and much more accuracy. It shows with the results - In 2007 Giants won the 3 conference playoff games by a total of 16 points, each game being very close. By contrast, while this year's team had an overtime game that was (by definition) close, the margin of victory in these 3 games this year is 41 points. Giants are a better, more explosive team this year and I think they have a chance in this game Sunday.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Giants: Supe Bowl week has arrived II

I just loved the article Filip Bondy wrote in the NY Daily News today, where he called Indianapolis "the city that always sleeps". Apparently in Super Bowl Village there is a "zip line" ride, where you attach yourself to a wire and are hoisted in the air to survey the entire city. Wow. The Midwest is flat and the sky line isn't exactly Paris; it's not the city of lights, it's Nap Town, USA. I was fortunate enough to score tickets to the game and am going, but will not be attaching a wire to myself and flying up in the air like I am auditioning for the lead role in the Broadway revival of Peter Pan. I am going to watch the game.

Osi is getting a lot of attention, especially for a guy that only played 8 games this year. He is getting lots of credit for the revival in the Giants defense. He has played well, but JPP and Tuck are the ones that make this front 7 perform at its highest level. Boley and Phillips coming back healthy was also a big boost to the overall defense. Osi is playing well and when he is not the focus of the OL, he can really put some pressure on the QB. I still think that there is a good chance he may not be on the team next year, but let's enjoy the ride now and worry about next year some other time. The reason I think Osi may go is because the Giants have two front 7 players whose contracts run out conterminously - Osi and Kiwanuka, both contracts ending after the 2012 season. Kiwanuka is several years younger than Osi and is probably a more complete player. He handles the run better and, as he showed this year, can play some LB also. If there were no salary cap, I would like to keep both players, but of course that is not the case. Giants may have to make the difficult choice of trading Osi, extending Kiwanuka and giving the LB position to the young, talented LBs that they drafted and signed this year - Williams, Jones, Herzlich and Paysinger. With the continued trend towards athletic, fast TEs, the LBs need to match their speed. That means that Kiwanuka is not a 3-down LB, so his value there is limited. His best position is DE.

The biggest offensive threats that the Patriots have are Gronkowski and Welker. The other skill position players do not seem as dangerous. Giants have to find a way to handle them, or at least hold them down to play an effective game on defense. I wouldn't mind having Corey Webster line up on Gronkowski at times - he has the size to handle him. But Boley and Williams will play important roles in defending the talented Patriot TEs. It would be nice if the Giants could avoid making mistakes like they did in the 49ers conference championship game, letting Davis go for two big plays. (How's that for coaching advice - "don't let that guy score a touchdown.")

Giants: Pats defensive strategy

In Super Bowl XXV, Giants played the high powered, up tempo offense of the Buffalo Bills. The Giants and DC Bellichick came up with an interesting defensive strategy to stop the Bills that year and QB Jim Kelly. Instead of pouring everything into the pass rush and the front 7 to try and get to Kelly before he could release the ball, the Giants instead overloaded the back end of the defense and did not commit to getting Kelly. In fact, they often lined up with only two DL-men and kept a mixture of 4 LBs and 5 DBs (or 5 LBs and 4 DBs)  to flood the passing zones and to hammer the Bills receivers after they caught the ball. Bills offense was predicated on running lots of crossing routes, so this strategy of having tight zone windows and always having a defender ready to hit a Bills WR right after the catch matched the Bills preferred offensive pass routes. The Giants were trying to take away the pass and dare the Bills to run the ball. The pregame thoughts were that if Bills RB Thruman Thomas runs for more than 100 yards, the Giants would win the game. If he did, the Bills passing game would be de-emphasized and Giants defense would have accomplished their strategic objective. Thomas did run for over 100 yards, scored a TD in the 4th quarter that put the Bills back in the lead (though I insist to this day that there was a clip by Andre Reed against Everson Walls that was not called) but despite Thomas' big game, Bills offense which had scored 50+ points the week before in their conference championship game route of the Dolphins, scored only 17 points (2 on a safety) against the Giants. You can't put that deflated score just on the defense, because the Giants offense held the ball for 40 minutes with lon time consuming drives, so the Bills offense had fewer opportunities than they normally would have had; nevertheless, it was interesting.

The reason I bring this up now is that I would not be surprised in Bellichick employs a similar strategy against the Giants this week. I don't think he will go to a 2-DL front, but he may go with lots of nickel and dime coverage, not over-commit to pressure packages and blitzes and instead try to confuse Eli and the Giants WRs with a host of 7 and even 8 man zone coverages. The reason he may doubly be attracted to this strategy is that Giants have not had a great running game this year. In 1990 Super Bowl, it was a creative strategy, but still somewhat risky because the Bills had a great running game also and could have (maybe should have) relied on their running game more than they actually did. The Giants this year have largely been a passing team with ineffective running game; therefore,  without a running game to balance out the offense and hurt the opposition, this strategy of sitting back with lots of DBs might be more effective. This is what the 49ers did last week - rarely blitzing and keeping lots of guys in coverage. This strategy was effective for the 49ers for several reasons:
The field was slick and Giants WRs could not win on their routes and get open.
49ers have good DBs and are able to cover on the back end.
49ers have very good front 4 and were able to manufacture pressure on Eli with just 4 rushers.

If the Patriots go heavy in the DB-field, Giants have to hope that they can win with their routes anyway and get open. They have to be patient and not throw into coverage and perhaps take what the Patriots give and run the ball. If the Patriots go with nickel all the time, Giants should give them a heavier dosage of Jacobs. When the Patriots are in their 3-4 look, the RB has less east-west running that he has to do which favors Jacobs and with smaller DBs on the field in place of a bigger LB, he may be able to run over some people in the secondary.

Furthermore, if Bellichick employs this strategy, Giants should throw more early in the downs and get the advantage of passing against them when they are less expecting it and may not have set up a complex zone. Last week, Eli did throw for 300+ yards, but his yards per attempt were lower than usual, indicating that this 49er strategy was effective. 

It will be interesting to see if Bellichick employs this defensive strategy and to see what the Giants offensive response is.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Giants: SuperBowl week has arrived

It's after midnight on Saturday here on the east coast, which means of course that it's Sunday, so we are now within 7 days of the big game. Some of the interesting stories in this game - Giants and Patriots rematch of one of the greatest Super Bowls ever, which additionally provided one of the biggest upsets ever and had one of the best, most improbable plays in all of Super Bowl history. Not much else, that's about it.

Interesting that both Bellichick and Coughlin are from the Parcells coaching tree, in fact, both were assistants on the 1990 Super Bowl winning Giants team. Bellichick was the DC and Coughlin was the receivers coach. Consequently, they often worked with each other, compared notes, discussed how the WRs would beat a particular defense and conversely how the defense would handle particular route combinations. Apparently they developed a close friendship and mutual professional respect. Bellichick is usually very short with his post game handshake, especially if he loses. After Super Bowl XLII, Bellichick and Coughlin shared a warm, touching moment with a hug and a private conversation in the middle of the field. The game was not really over, there was 1 second left, so Eli had to take one more snap and Bellichick went to the locker room before the game was technically over, but they shared that moment showing their feelings for each other.

Giants OL has to have a better game than they had in SF, they cannot allow Eli to get beat up like he did in the conference championship game. I keep hearing that WR Julian Edelman is going to be the 3rd CB for the Patriots and it's hard to believe that the Giants won't attack there and take advantage of that match up with some success. The worry I have for this game is that with the "simplifying" of the Giants defense the last few weeks, even though it has been effective, Bellichick with two weeks of film preparation will be able to come up with an offensive plan that will tear it apart. Everyone is banking on the fact that the Giants pass rush wrecked the Pats offense in 2007, so they should be able to do it now. However, the Patriots offense is different now. In 2007, it was Randy Moss and lots of down field throws, requiring Brady to hold the ball for a relatively long time, giving the DL a chance to get home. However, now Brady gets rid of the ball quickly on short throws to Welker and their talented TEs, which can limit the effectiveness of the pass rush. Giants have tightened up their coverage and did a good job against the quick Green Bay WRs two weeks ago, throwing off their timing, so maybe they can do the same next week. In some ways, the Green Bay and the Patriots offense has some similarities. Both have quick WRs, not big long striders. Both offenses have a dangerous TE. Both teams have a deadly accurate QB. Brady doesn't present the running problem that Rodgers did if the Giants play more man to man; we'll see how that works out. Jacquian Williams had a little ankle issue which could be a big loss for the Giants, since he is a very athletic LB who will be called on to give help on the Patriots TEs.

Need more time to study this game..... more during the week.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Giants: Critical Plays

Generally when a team makes the playoffs, there are a number of big plays and big games that contributed to their season. It is rare that you can point to a few plays that, if they went the other way, would have prevented the team from advancing. But with the Giants this year, having squeezed into the playoffs by the narrowest of margins, not securing that playoff bid until the last game of the season, you really may be able to list a few plays that made the difference. For me, the block by JPP of the potential game tying FG in the first Cowboys game and the 99 yard run by Cruz made the entire season. Surely there were other big plays, but particularly those plays in those games, games that the Giants had to have and those plays being ones that fundamentally reversed the flow or determined the outcome of the game deserve to be highlighted.

The play by Cruz was incredible. Jets were controlling the game, leading 7-3. They were doing a great job defensively against the Giants offense and there was no real hope that it was going to get better from the Giants perspective. Giants were backed up on their own 1, with not much time left in the half, facing 3rd and 10. A stop there by the Jets, might mean that they get the ball back in great field position and can move in for another score before halftime. That would have given them a 7 or 11 point lead and lots of momentum heading into the second half. Cruz comes up with that big play, giving the Giants the lead, changing the momentum and leaving the Jets completely dazed for the second half. It changed the way the game was played also, with the Jets abandoning their running game and letting Sanchez put the ball up in the air some 60 times. This play changed that game and changed both the Jets season as well as the Giants season at the same time. Only the winner of that game had a realistic chance of making the playoffs and that one play simultaneously reversed the fortunes for both. It was the biggest play of the year for the Giants and may have been the biggest single regular season play in NFL history.

If you're looking for an early season play that was both a harbinger of things to come and set up the Giants offense with confidence, propelling them to a productive season, the 75 yard catch and run by Victor Cruz (aka Cruuuuuuuuz) against the Eagles way back in week 3 was the big play. Nobody expected the Giants to be able to contend with the Philadelphia Dream Team Eagles. Giants looked terrible in a week one loss to the Redskins and did not look too much better in the week 2 victory against the Rams, requiring a defensive TD on a boneheaded error by the Rams to win. Giants were ahead 7-0 in the first quarter but when Cruz caught a little sideline pass, made someone miss, broke a tackle and streamed down the sidelines for a score, he trumpeted his arrival on the scene and let the world know that he could be a productive WR. Later, with the Giants behind 16-14 in the fourth quarter, Cruz out-jumped Asomugha at the goal line for another score, one that put them ahead permanently. Even though that second TD was important, I am highlighting the first one as Cruz's big statement play.

As much as I love Cruz, you can't ignore the skill of the guy on the other end of those throws. Eli and Cruz have great communication, read the defenses the same way (one exception last week early in 49ers game) and have great chemistry. Let's not forget the other important point - Eli's ball placement has been superb this year. Throwing it high, low or middle as the situation demands and hitting Cruz in perfect stride, so he does not have to reach or bend for the ball and is able to make a move and make people miss, leading to some big plays after the catch.

Giants: waiting for Super Bowl week

It's tough waiting for Super Bowl week to start, much less the game itself. Imagine, if we're sitting on pins and needles and can't wait for the game to start, what must the players be feeling. I guess you have to pace yourself - or at least the players do.

I always thought that Eli got short shrift in the "elite QB status" because he didn't look or act the part. He's mild mannered, soft spoken, doesn't yell at his teammates or get in their face or that of the opponents. He doesn't run over guys or run past them like some of the other big and fast QBs. When they show a picture of him, he's always relaxed, rarely sweaty and grimy, no blood on his face, no scars. You know - he just doesn't look like a "real" football player. He doesn't break tackles like Roethlisberger or extend plays by scrambling like Brees. In other words - he didn't walk out of central casting and wouldn't be the star in a movie about a football player. Therefore, he must not be "elite", goes the subconscious analysis. Some of that seemed to change when he was 67 yards shy of throwing for 5,000 yards this year, an accomplishment done by only 4 QBs in history, 3 of them this year. But even that wasn't good enough for the football gurus - what really seemed to change things and impress people was the fact that he got beat up this past Sunday by the 49ers defense but still hung in there, played well and kept coming back for more. On one play, he was hit so hard that his helmet was knocked askew, his shoulder pads came out of his jersey and if he was back as a freshman in high school, the 49ers seniors would have given him a wedgie. Now that he looked like a tough guy, playing a football player in a movie, the analysts could compliment him on his performance and call him a star QB. What a bunch of dopes. My advice to Eli - ignore these dopes, just keeping getting some jewelry for you and your teammates and everything will fall into place.

The reporters are really reaching for stuff to write about in this dead week, before the actual Super Bowl week begins when the real in depth analysis of the two teams gets going in earnest. Just to show you how lame some of the stories this week were and how superficial some of the insights were, I read in the papers that:
  • Since Lucas Oil Stadium is a dome, there will be no wind to affect the passing game.
  • Further because of that dome, rain is unlikely to affect the game like it did in SF last week.
  • JPP calls his mother after every game to let her know he's OK.
  • (Actually one interesting thing I did learn was that JPP played on the same high school football team as Denard Robinson, the current U-Mich QB. If you've ever seen Denard "Shoelace" Robinson play.... wow can he run. I guess they grow 'em fast in Deerfield Beach.)
  • Ted Marchibroda gave Bellichick his first job in football.
  • James Ihedigbo, current Patriots and former Jets S calls his mom every week for a pregame prayer session.
  • Steve Weatherford wears his wedding ring during the games and he loves his wife.
  • Tyler Sash has a cut on his face from an accident with a car door.

Sheesh - can we move the clock a little faster, please??

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Giants: Jets give great inspiration

Consider the seasons of the two Super Bowl contestants.

Giants were 6-2 then went on their 4 game losing streak, losing to 49ers, Eagles, Saints and then the Packers. They got a little juice going in their game against the Packers, gave some signs that maybe the worst was behind them and were still breathing, one game behind the Cowboys in the division. Then they went down to Dallas and beat the Cowboys, bringing their record to 7-6 and putting them in control of their playoff fate. The next week they suffered a truly dispiriting loss to an awful Redskins team, dropping the Giants to 7-7 and giving the fans the sorry feeling that the win against the Cowboys was an illusion. Next up was the Jets. The stadium coresidents,  the trash talking, we're the big brother in town, we're going to the Super Bowl Jets. Giants playoff run began in earnest. They had to win the last two games of the year to make the playoffs and the Jets stood in their way. Giants beat the Jets, then in succession beat the Cowboys, Falcons, Packers and 49ers. So once they met the Jets, they have not lost another game in the season.

Now let's look at the Patriots season. Patriots were nearly perfect in the first 6 games of the season going 5-1 with their only loss an upset by the Bills. Then they had a bad loss to the Steelers and an even worse loss to the Giants. Two game losing streak and a 5-3 record with the Jets coming up in a road game for them at Met Life Stadium. Jets were licking their chops to avenge an earlier season loss on the road and smelled a wounded animal in the Patriots on a two game losing streak. Patriots crushed the Jets 37-16 and have not lost since.

There you go --- the two Super Bowl contestants, both considered bitter rivals of the Jets, have not lost a game since playing the Jets. Too bad Giants didn't play them earlier in the season.

Giants: Conference Championship game review

Steve Weatherford had a great game punting for the Giants, particularly with some 50+ yard punts in the 2nd half when the Giants needed to protect field position in the low scoring game. He also made a great play on the low snap to pick it up and get it down for Tynes on the game winning FG. Laces out for Ray Finkel.

Also - great punt by Weatherford early in the 4th quarter, aiming to kick it right off Kyle Williams knee so the Giants could recover. They must have worked on that in ST all year and finally it paid off. Great throw by Eli to Manningham on the TD pass that put them ahead following this muffed punt recovery. It was also a gutsy call to throw the ball into the end zone there. It would have been real easy, on 3rd and 15 to play it safe and settle for 3 points on the theory that you only then need a FG to win the game. Great call, great read, great throw.  

That's two conference championship games in a row that Giants have been in where Tynes hit the game winner in OT following a turnover by the opposition deep in their territory. This game also hearkens back memories of the last time Giants played a conference championship game on the road against the 49ers. Of course, that was the famous 3-peat game, when Matt Bahr kicked 5 FGs, the last one coming as time expired, also after a late 49er turnover in Giants 15-13 victory. Not that I'm superstitious or anything, but I watched the game Sunday with my good friend, with whom I also watched that game in 1990.  That 1990 game had everything in it - Giants called a half back option pass on the goal line with Dave Meggett throwing to a wide open Maurice Carthon in the end zone and Carthon dropping the easy TD pass. It had a fake punt by the Giants early in the 4th quarter, with Giants LB Gary Reasons who was blocking as the up-back taking the snap from C and running about 30 yards to set up the Giants 4th FG. It had the Giants knocking Joe Montana out of the game on a blind side sack from Leonard Marshall. It had the 49ers bringing in Steve Young off the bench, who nearly won the game for the 49ers, until DT Erik Howard stripped RB Roger Craig with LT recovering the fumble. Hoestetler hit a few plays to Mark Bavaro and Stephen Baker to move the Giants in FG range and Matt Bahr kicked the winning FG ending the 3-peat. I love nostalgia, now back to the 2011 season.

Did anybody notice that Jacobs did not even see the field in the 2nd half. Bradshaw ran tough, if not very effectively and caught a nice pass down the sideline. After the Giants recovered the fumble in OT, Bradshaw made some nice runs to make the kick easy instead of a long nail-biter like the one in Green bay 4 years ago.

Giants first two Super Bowls were four years apart, in 1986 and 1990. They won last in 2007 and it is now 4 year later in 2011. I'm just saying. Giants beat the number one and number two NFC seed in 2007 to get to the Super Bowl and have done the same this year. Again, I'm just saying. Lots of other similarities, but let's leave it at that for now.

The coverage by the Giants CBs against the 49ers WRs was excellent. I am not forgetting the bad/blown coverage on the two Vernon Davis TDs, but that turned out to be errors by the safeties and one (IMO) formation problem. Nevertheless, the coverage on the WRs was excellent. Giants have to put on their defensive thinking caps to figure out how to handle the Patriots very talented TEs.

I watched the Patriots-Ravens AFC conference championship game replay on NFL Network tonight and Patriots defense looked average. Not terrible, which is a step up from where they have played this year, but not unbeatable either.

Giants OL had it taken to them in the 2nd half against the 49ers. They need to play much better against the Patriots, who don't have the depth and quality at DL that the 49ers do. Vince Woolfork is still in the middle of the Patriots 3-4 defense but is not quite the dominant run stopper he used to be. Giants blocking by the TE position against he 49ers was average and against a 3-4 it needs to be really sharp, especially with athletic LBs which the 49ers have. There was a phantom holding call against Baas which set the Giants deep in their own territory. The delay of game call on the Giants at the end, when they had two timeouts left was inexcusable.

On the 49ers first possession of the 2nd half,  the Giants had them in a 3rd and 21. They had good coverage and forced Smith out of the pocket but Aaron Ross was called for an illegal contact penalty. It was a terrible call, Ross reached out and pushed the WR within 5 yards, not beyond it, so it was a legal push. Giants stopped the 49ers on that possession, so you could say it didn't really hurt the Giants, but remember that football is all about field position. 49ers got a first down because of that penalty, then gained another 20 yards before they were stopped on 4th down. This means that instead of punting from their own 28 they punted from the Giants 49 and with a good punt pinned the Giants down on their own 7. When Giants punted back, the 49ers got a good return and had the ball out near midfield again and scored on this drive on the second TD pass to Vernon Davis. Field position is king in football.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Giants: NFC CHAMPS !!!

Some game - The defenses were clearly dominant, but IMO, the weather had a lot to do with the offenses not producing and particularly hurting the Giants. Nobody was whining about it and the field did not look muddy, but it was slick, especially in the 2nd half and particularly outside the numbers. You could see often that WRs were slipping when they tried to cut outside. This hurts the Giants - some of Eli's best throws are his out routes, his back shoulder fades on the sidelines and these were taken out of his arsenal. As a result everything had to be thrown in the middle of the field, between the numbers, where the 49ers active safeties were roaming, where their fast LBs were taking their drops and it was very crowded.

That having been said, the 49ers defense was very impressive. Their DL in the 2nd half particularly was taking it to the Giants OL. But there have been a few games this year where other defenses stopped the Giants offense, largely on the strength of a dominant DL performance. i am thinking of the home Eagles and Redskins game, where the Giants OL just couldn't block anybody. but I have not seen a game where the Giants WRs were covered so effectively by an opposing DB-field. The Jets did a good job, but that was mostly Revis; Cruz did in fact get free for a big play in that game, as you might remember. But aside from Revis, Giants WRs have had a great year and have been getting open for Manning all year. Not Sunday. 49ers DBs were all over them.

BTW - that play by Cruz will go down in NY Football lore, regardless of what happens in the Super Bowl, as one of the most pivotal plays in any season at any time. it will go down there with Bavaro dragging the entire 49er secondary for 15 yards on a Monday night football game during the 1986 season. In case you don't remember, or weren't alive at the time, 49ers led by Montana were all over the Giants and were up 17-0 at halftime. Simms hit Bavaro on a short pass and he would not be brought down. It inspired the entire team to stay with it, not give up and the Giants won 21-17. The 99 yard catch by Cruz turned around the Jets game, propelled the Giants into the playoffs and took the Jets out.

Jacquian Williams is going to be a star in the league when he gets a little more experience. his physical gifts are enormous. He made the big strip to force the fumble that won the game because of his speed and strength.The kick returner thought that he had eluded Williams and he was past him and he was not anticipating a hit. But Williams accelerated, reached out with his long arm and punched the ball out. The returner did not clamp down on the ball and secure it because he did not see it coming. Williams also showed great speed in pass defense earlier in the game. He knocked down a pass and showed great closing speed to get there. He was running like a CB.

Chase Blackburn played a good game also from the LB position. He is not the most talented athlete and got knocked around in the running game on a few plays. But, even though he is not the fastest, he made some real good drops in the passing game and also got his hands on a pass intended for Vernon Davis.

Giants gave up two long plays to Davis, mostly on blown coverages by the Giants. Other than those plays, 49ers had little offense. They ran the ball fairly well, gaining 150 yards on the ground. But nowadays, that does not win football games. You have to pass it.

Eli played a great game, this time showing how tough he is by taking hit after hit, hanging in there and throwing for 300+ yards. He is as good as any QB in football. Rodgers and Brees may run a little better, but Eli can make every throw on the football field and putting it in a somewhat convoluted way for comparison purposes: there is no throw that Rodgers can make that Eli can't. Trent Dilfer on ESPN today said it like this: Comparing Eli and Brady, the latter has a much more accomplished body of work, he has been in the league longer, won more playoff games, more Super Bowls and more games. But there is no QB in the league playing better than Eli is right now.

You have to hope Nicks recovers from his shoulder ding. He looked somewhat compromised to me in the later part of the game, even though he was out there. The extra week off should help.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Giants: NFC Championship game - Really Last Thoughts

Last night the NFL Network replayed the regular season game between Giants and 49ers and I took a peak. Somehow my recollection of the game was that the 9ers beat the Giants pretty badly and the Giants had a last gasp chance to tie the score. After watching the game again last night, with a sense of detached analysis rather than being emotional watching when the game was played live, my impression is quite the contrary. Giants moved the ball well against the 49ers and failed a few times in the red zone against the 49ers tough red zone defense. They gave away two second half 49er TDs when Weatherford hit his only bad punt of the year giving 49ers great field position. They scored their second TD when Eli threw an INT as a result of Manningham cuttingoff his route with the ball going right to the DB. Boley was injured right before both of those 49ers possessions and replacement rookie Greg Jones blew his assignment on both 49ers TDs. The first was pass to TE Davis and the other a run by Kendall. That was it. Those two plays were the entire 49ers second half offense. Giants marched down the field and got a TD to get them within 7 and marched down again with a chance to tie the game, but failed on 4th down from the 10. Give the 49ers credit because they did make some big plays. but it is also true that the Giants beat the 49ers at the line of scrimmage. If the Giants play a clean, tight game, limiting big mistakes and turnovers, they have a chance.

I think Harbaugh is a dangerous coach and he could pull some real tricks out of his bag. He may decide to play nickel all game to try and stop the Giants passing game, almost daring the Giants to run. He may feel that his LBs are so good that the defense can stop Giants running game even if they get away from their 3-4 strength, playing an extra DB instead of 4 LBs. Giants are going to have to pass the ball to win the game, even though they did run the ball fairly well against the 9ers in that first game. Ballard (Pacoe/Beckum) may become key players if the 49ers do this, finding holes in their zone coverage.

On defense, Giants do not use that much deception, so playing strong at the point of attack and not over-committing to stop the run is what got the Giants here and it will have to be what gets them through this game also.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Giants: NFC Championship game - Last Thoughts

Everyone agrees - all the experts, the analysts, the geniuses on NFL Network that this is a very evenly matched game. The 49ers are a very complete team, well coached, great defense, QB that is coming into his own and with their home field advantage, they are favored by a few points. But it is interesting to rewind the clock and set it back just a week, as we were coming into the Packers game and see how the wind was blowing then. Everyone agreed that the top seeded Packers were the best team in the NFC and most likely in the entire league. They were unanimously at the top of everyone's Power Ranking list and were deemed virtually unbeatable. They had the consensus league MVP in Aaron Rodgers, the best player in the league at the most important position on the field, had a host of elite skill position players around him that made their offense unstoppable, were well coached and were playing at home. It is true that the one chink in their armor was a weak defense, but even that was disregarded because despite the yardage they gave up, they did get a lot of turnovers and were opportunistic. In general, they seemed like a lock to go to the Super Bowl, the only thing they might have been missing was a prophesy from the Oracle of Delphi predicting their victory. So with all of that going for them, wouldn't you think that the team that knocked them out of the playoffs so convincingly would get props for doing so and get some consideration for being the "new" best team.

Apparently, that's not how it works. When a team loses, even a 15-1 team like the Packers, suddenly instead of throwing bouquets at the team that beat them, we reevaluate and discover all of their warts. Now, in retrospect, we say: the Packers are a one dimensional team, with a terrible defense, with an offense that is driven only by its big strike passing game but does not have it balanced with a good running game. Even their passing game, the strength of their team is suddenly exposed because they have diminutive WRs that can be pushed out of their comfort zone if you are physical with them at the line of scrimmage. On top of that, instead of calling them well coached, we are finding all of the mistakes the coaching staff made during this game. So, now the take is that - instead of knocking off the 15-1, top seeded, best team in the NFL, the Giants beat a flawed team, that any decent team should have beaten and they needed a lucky Hail Mary at the end of the half to do it.

The truth is probably somewhere in between - Rodgers is a great player and the Packers rode his back to that 15-1 record. But the Giants are a much better team than they showed during those first 14 games of the regular season and should be given some credit for that.

With all that said, the 49ers are a solid team and have to be given some props for knocking off the high powered Saints. But a simple analysis might be - Giants have a stronger passing game and offense, and if the Giants defense of the last few weeks shows up, they should be able to give a representative showing against the less explosive 49ers offense. I've been saying all along that weather could be a factor because it limits the effectiveness of offenses and could undercut the Giants advantage there. If it becomes a low scoring, field position struggle, special teams could become a factor and the 49ers have an advantage there.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Giants: NFC Championship game week

Formulating a game plan is not just about the OC and the DC going into their silos and devising the best strategy for success for their particular units. It is also about the HC supervising the overall approach and making sure the two units have a game plan that is consistent with the overall strategy of defeating the opponent. Parcells was always the master of this method - it wasn't just figuring out how to score points - it was also understanding, for example, if your defense had an advantage in some manner over the opposing offense and therefore deciding whether the offense should play conservatively or aggressively. We may have seen a corollary of that theory with the signing by the Saints of Spagnuolo as their DC for next year. Spags likes to play an aggressive, attacking style defense, taking risks with his pressures. That style matches an offense that plays up tempo itself and can make up for an occasional mistake by the defense with a quick strike of its own. It also certainly matches with an offense that will often get a lead and play from ahead, opening the door to pressure an opposing offense that is forced to pass more often than it may be accustomed to.

How do we apply that theory of overall game planning to this game on Sunday. The primary approach would be to look at both units of the 49ers. First, their offense is not that explosive. They have a big play TE in Vernon Davis but their WRs have not had great years. Crabtree has some skill, but he has been a bit of a disappointment in the league and is not the big play WR that the 49ers thought he would be when they took him in the first round. Ted Ginn has good straight line speed but is not a great WR and the injury report says he is having some knee issues. The 49ers have been a running based offense this year, relying on their power RB Frank Gore, who in addition to his power, has just enough speed to break a run if the tackling is poor and the discipline in swarming to the ball by the defense is a little off. With more of a conservative offense, the Giants defense certainly has to stop the run, but be careful not to oversell to do so. The 49ers OL is big and can run block but has not been as solid pass blocking.

Looking at the other side of the ball, I believe there is the same disparity in the 49ers defense. They play 3-4 with a very good front 7, particularly led by their two very fast inside LBs, NaVorro and Willis, and have been very effective stopping the run this year. But I don't think their pass defense is as strong and they rely on pressure and good LB play in zone coverage to defend the pass.

Giants run defense has been very good last few weeks, stopping a better running game than the 49ers have in the Falcons two weeks ago. You have to anticipate that with the foul weather, it might be a low scoring game and you cannot change who you are, bring 8 or 9 up to the line of scrimmage and get beat on a play action pass deep. I would not be surprised to see Harbaugh pull out a trick play to fool the Giants.

Matching that conservative 49ers offense, it would be great if the Giants can turn this into a passing QB duel, weather notwithstanding. The optimum would be if the Giants are aggressive early, get ahead and force the 49ers to play from behind taking them out of their conservative running game. I would not take inordinate risks with the ball, of course, because with that slightly underpowered offense, the 49ers rely on turnovers to score points for their offense; remember last week when Saints gave away 17 points on turnovers. But you have to throw the ball to move the 49ers LBs away from the line of scrimmage. Using Ballard and Cruz to occupy the LBs might be a good tactic which could open up some throws to the outside. Conversely, the 49ers paying a lot of attention to the outside could open the middle of the field. Giants OL has to block them and if they do, Giants should be able to move the ball through the air. 49ers have one pretty good CB in Carlos Rogers and their S position is effective, but not great. On defense, I would not playing a gambling, pressuring style that gives Smith a chance to score by breaking one play here or there. Giants should go the route they did against the Packers and Falcons -  rely on the DL to pressure the QB and put the onus on the DB-field to play well against the WRs. If they were able to contain the explosive WRs of the Packers and Falcons and hold TEs Jermichael Finley and Tony Gonzalez down, they should be able to handle the 49ers offense with a similar plan. Giants were very focused on Finley last week - part of their game plan was "smack # 88 every chance you get". The same approach should be in play this week with the defense - try not to let him get a clean, easy release off the line of scrimmage. But more than that, Giants need to have a S to give help on top to the LB that may cover him underneath. Giants will give the double coverage to TE Davis and expect the CBs to handle their assignments with a little less help than usual.

Boley in pass defense on Davis and Kiwanuka in run defense are important LBs this week. Of course, the DL needs to win its battle against the 49ers in the running game and give the LBs room to run down hill to make tackles. Giants did reasonably well stopping the run in the first 49ers game, but that doesn't mean it will work this time. You know what they say - past performance is not an indicator of future results. Osi should be a little more of a situational pass rusher this week than playing early downs against the run, because he is a little weaker in run defense. Giants did not get a good pass rush in the regular season game against the 49ers and they made Smith look better than he really is. But we all have observed that this is not the same defense that played back then. Giants defense, against explosive offenses of Cowboys, Falcons and Packers in the last 3 weeks have given up a total of 36 points.  49ers are a solid, well coached team and the Giants need to play well and play a clean game to win. Turnovers are always important of course, but with an opportunistic defense matched with the conservative, relatively unexplosive offense that the 49ers have, it is even more important that the Giants don't give it away (sheesh, I sound like those two dopes on NFL Network now).

Weather of course is a factor and is impossible to predict how it will affect the game. The current forecast is for 80% chance of showers today, 40% chance of showers on Saturday and 30% on Sunday. The forecast is also for heavy winds with gusts up to 25-35 MPH Friday, which actually could be good news. Strong wind dries up some of the ground water and may make for a slightly more playable field. The field should be covered until Sunday also helping its condition. Further, the forecast is not for drenching rains all day, rather for showers each of these days. Sunday the wind is expected to be around 10MPH - not great, but not terrible and Eli is certainly used to playing in windy conditions.

Giants: Wow those analysts on NFL Network are really SMART !!!

Just got finished watching a segment on the Total Access show on NFL Network with Brian Billick and Moose Johnston. In case you missed it, I just had to summarize it here for your benefit, because they gave tremendous insight into the upcoming NFC championship game between the Giants and 49ers. The question placed before them by the brilliant host was: will Eli Manning have a big passing game against the 49ers defense. Moose Johnston explained that he might have a good game even though his receivers haven't been together that long. By comparison, the Saints receivers have been together with Brees for more games than Eli has been together with his receivers. (He gave the statistics - I think it was 384 games versus 127 games.) So - even though the Saints threw for over 400 yards last week against the 49ers, the Giants might not because Brees is really great. Also, the ever insightful Moose added, don't forget that the Saints turned the ball over to the 9ers in the passing game several times. So, in conclusion, Moose said, Eli might not have as big a game as Brees because the Saints are the best passing offense in the league and the Giants are not. Then, Moose added, even if Eli has a big passing game, he can't turn the ball over. Brilliant analysis.

I was waiting with bated breath to hear what Billick might say. I couldn't imagine what this X-es and O-s master, former Super Bowl winning Head Coach might add to the well considered thoughts of Moose Johnston. (People named "Moose" are generally considered to be smart, right?) He gazed into the camera with a serious, steely look. His eye level slightly above the center of the camera and his chin slightly raised, therefore seemed like he was looking down at his audience with some condescension. Billick said Giants can throw the ball down the field but they should not turn the ball over. He added with self assured certainty, that Eli turned the ball over in the past, that he needs to try to throw the ball, but needs to protect it and be careful with turnovers.

Fortunately, I had my DVR going and recorded this segment. I made a DVD of it and Fed-Exed it directly to Gilbride and Coughlin at the Timex Performance Center in East Ruthreford NJ. I hope it gets there before they leave to San Francisco, so they can review this inside information. But my fear is that even if it gets there early Saturday morning, they will have already installed their offensive game plan and it will be too late to change. Woe is me. I hope they didn't put in the game plan for Eli to throw a lot of interceptions, because that would probably be bad for the team.

Giants: look ahead to 49ers

I am not going to start waxing nostalgic about the 2007 playoff run and compare it to the this year's because this run has not yet run its course, so complete comparison is not possible. I will say that through two games, the performance this year has been much more impressive. In the first two games in 2007, Giants had a solid, but not overwhelming win against the Buccaneers and a squeaker 4 point win against first seeded Cowboys. By comparison, Giants had a dominant wild card win against the Falcons with the defense shutting out Atlanta and winning 24-2. The second round this year was against a Packers team that was much stronger than the Cowboys who the Giants played in '07. Packers were close to undefeated this year and Giants absolutely spanked them winning going away, while the Cowboys win in 2007 was by the thinnest of margins. I am not saying this forecasts anything for the rest of these playoffs, just pointing things out.

I am really worried about the weather Sunday in San Francisco The forecast seems to change daily. Early in the week, there was near 100% chance that there would be precipitation from Thursday before the game all the way through Sunday. Now the forecast seems to have been revised - there will be rain in the few days prior to the game, but on Sunday itself, there is now a 40% chance of rain. Sloppy field and wet ball makes for unpredictable results. But actually, if the field is covered before the game, if there's not much wind, the offenses may not be too limited. People say that bad weather favors a running game over a passing game. But that may not be true - the thing that affects the passing game the most is bad wind, and the forecast is for only moderate winds. I actually think that passing game is enhanced by bad weather rather than hurt by it and the running game is hurt more. We'll see.

Harbaugh is a very good, creative coach. Giants have to stop the run and I think the inclination to play more man coverage in pass defense will work well this Sunday. For one thing, the TE is the main deep threat on the 49ers, the WRs are less likely to hurt you on deep pass routes. If they can handle Rodgers and his very dangerous deep threat WRs, the Giants should, at least theoretically be able to hold down Smith and his less-talented WRs.

Diehl needs to play a  good game this Sunday, the 49ers RDE Smith abused the Saints LT and caused lots of problems for the offense, frequently disrupting plays.

While the 49ers have a physical, mauling OL that does well in pass blocking, the word is that they do not do particularly well pass blocking. The hope is that the muddy field does not slow down the Giants pass rush and they can do a decent job getting after Smith. In a low scoring game, influenced by a sloppy field, turnovers will be even more important than usual. I said before the Packers game that if Rodgers was on his game, Giants would probably lose. I also said that the Giants had to play a very clean game offensively and clearly win the turnover battle. That turned out to be an accurate forecast - Giants turned the ball over only once to four by the Packers. Rodgers was off his game, due in large measure to Giants defense disrupting it, and Giants won easily. This week, Giants defense can afford to be aggressive with 49ers offense, who are less likely to make a lot of big plays than the Packers were. Giants limited Packers big play offense, giving up only one play greater than 20 yards the entire game. Giants need to do a good job covering and limiting TE Vernon Davis and, if so, will do a decent job limiting the 49ers offense. Everyone is making a big fuss about how well Alex Smith played last week and how he took a big step up as a strong NFL QB. I don't get it - Smith was pretty mediocre through 3 1/2 quarters and made 3 or 4 nice pass plays in the last few minutes to win the game. They were nice passes - I am not taking anything away from him. But still - 4 passes does not a game or a season make.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Giants: Packers going, 49ers coming up

Giants offense has been good all year, but how will they handle going against a real good defense next week in SF. Last few weeks Giants offense has performed very well, but has gone against weak defenses in the Packers, Falcons and the Cowboys. Statistically the Packers are rated the worst defense in the league, but I think the Cowboys are much worse. Packers give up a lot of yards, but get a lot of INTs and are more or less in the middle of the league when it comes to points allowed. Ignoring the statistics, it looked like the Packers made a few plays and got a few stops here and there on defense, while in the last week of the season against the Cowboys, it just looked like the Giants could move the ball easily against the FRR (Fat Rob Ryan) defense. Falcons defense is not that bad and Giants offense did well only in the second half. The week before the Cowboys game, Giants played the Jets, who have a good defense and the Giants did not have a good offensive game at all. Giants need to play well offensively against the 49ers and I hope the weather does not interfere.

In the last 4 weeks, Giants have beaten Rex Ryan (Jets HC) , Rob Ryan (Cowboys DC) , Matt Ryan (Falcons QB) and Ryan Grant (Packers RB). Bad news people - 49ers don't have anyone named "Ryan" on their team. Maybe the receptionist?

Giants franchise record in conference championship games and Super Bowl games is 7-1, with 4-0 record in the conference championships.

Antrel Rolle is playing better and better  as the year is going along. He has really sacrificed, moving for the good of the team from his natural S position and is playing a lot of nickel CB coverage. His tackling has gotten very sure, he almost never misses a tackle and makes some very  good stops rarely giving up yards after contact.

It's a funny thing - both teams in the conference championship game wanted this match up and would have chosen this opponent to play. 49ers did not want to travel to Green Bay, play the number one seed and would prefer to stay at home. Giants would prefer to play the 49ers than traveling to play the speedy Saints in their dome, even though they won't admit it. For the Giants, both games would be a road games, but they lost in the regular season by one TD to the 49ers and lost by about 100 to the Saints. Let's see who is happy with their chosen opponent.

Harbaugh looks to me like he is an excellent coach. He has taken the same team that was on the bottom of the NFC Western division for several years, resurrected the career of the QB, instituted some order and organization, coached 'em up, captured the second seed and is now in the conference championship game. Thinking back to that first SF game, Harbaugh broke several tendencies and really surprised the Giants coaches. For one thing, SF had been running the ball on everyone and Giants defense came in with a plan to stop Gore and their running game. Instead, SF came out and seems like they passed on every first down against the Giants base defense. Giants finally adjusted, but it was a very good move. He also called the surprise onside kickoff wich worked and gave his team an extra possession. In that second half, a turnover killed the Giants. Following the turnover Harbaugh called a play to Vernon Davis out of a different formation than they usually use, the Giants defense got confused, blew a coverage (they did that then) and it went for a TD. It was the formation and play call that fooled the Giants, which is all coaching.

Speaking of coaching - everything McCarthy tried last Sunday turned to garbage. First half onside kickoff failed, although it didn't really kill him because Packers blocked the FG attempt. Fourth quarter onside kickoff also was recovered by Giants although that was not as bad as everyone made it out to be. It's true that the Giants gained 30 yards of field position, because they got the ball at midfield instead of their own 20. But the Packers were still in position to make a stop by the defense and get the ball back. The other coaching calls that failed were the 4th and 5 try early in 4th quarter, which was an important turning point. Green Bay's other coaching mistake was not being prepared for the Hail Mary at the end of the half. As I said in earlier post, Packers were defending a sideline throw not a deep ball and the catch by Nicks was easier than it should have been. Bad defensive call by Packers coaching staff.

Giants: Packers odds and ends

Have you noticed the Giants players suddenly spouting great love, admiration and strong belief in Coughlin as a tough, smart leader of men? What a change from the last several years. Everybody knows about the well advertised change Coughlin made in 2007 where he became a little softer, got to know the players better and did not live only by the motto of firm, fair and demanding. The players accepted him a little bit more but still did not show love and admiration. I can't help thinking that part of what has changed was the sharp contrast the players see from the coach on the other side of town. Rex Ryan took the town by storm his first two years. Players talked about how he's a player's coach; how they love him and love to play for him. But his brash style, his empty promises, failed guarantees and his immature juvenile behavior (giving the finger to people at some event in Miami, cursing at fans, getting into trash talking in the media with opposing players and not knowing what is going on in his own locker room) is simply beneath the dignity of a man who is supposed to lead other men. The foot fetish thing may not have helped him too much either. The strong contrast between someone who is so low class like Ryan and Coughlin, who exudes professionalism, preparation and treats his players like professionals, not like beer buddies at a bar, may have finally opened some players eyes. This is the persona that they want their coach to portray.

The OL play has still been somewhat spotty, with the Giants running game very inconsistent. Don't look at the total number of yards that the Giants gained on the day; look instead at the number of running plays that went for less than 2 yards or negative yards. Giants broke a few big running plays that made the number look better but still did not have a good looking ground game. As my brother likes to say - don't look at the average yards per carry, look also at the standard deviation. (Statistics class will start in 15 minutes). While the run game was not so good, the pass blocking was very good, especially this past Sunday against an average Packers DL.  Having said that, I finished reviewing the DVR of the Packers game (for about the 4th time) and have to say the following to limit the bashing of the OL. Giants RBs missed several holes and several easy cutback runs that could have gone for very nice yardage. They did not have good vision for finding those holes on Sunday and I don't know why. There were also a few plays where Matthews guessed where the running play was going and jumped across the line before the play could develop making it difficult to block even for a great OL. I would like to see Gilbride next year get a "run coordinator" to improve the effectiveness and deception of the running game. A new, fast  RB might not hurt either.

I loved the aggressive play call by Gilbride in the 4th quarter to seal the game. Giants had the ball with 4 + minutes left after recovering the onside kick. Two runs to Bradshaw for no gain forced the Packers to spend their timeouts leaving Giants with a 3rd and 11. Instead of playing conservative, running on third down and punting, Eli threw a dart to Cruz in the middle of the field  for a first down that closed the game. Packers must have sensed it was over, because Giants tacked on 2 long runs, one by Bradshaw for about 25 and then the 10 yard TD run by Jacobs for Giants last score.

Rodgers has a cannon for an arm and is a very accurate passer. He is a great runner and throws well on the run, but I did not really see him show great touch on any of his throws Sunday like Eli seems to have. All Rodgers throws were lasers and when the timing of the play is slightly off, those rockets can be hard to catch. Eli knows when to take some juice off the ball and when to float a feathery throw over the LBs and in front of the DBs.  I am not saying Eli is better than Rodgers, I am just saying that I am very happy with our QB.

Speaking about Rodgers, he seems like a real arrogant, front running jerk. In his press conference after the game he talked about how disappointed he was, what a great season he (not the team?) had and did not give any credit to the Giants. He just said - when you turn it over and drop passes (i.e. all everybody else's fault on the team) that's when you lose. I also did not see him be professional and congratulate the opposing QB after the game ended. Eli was wandering around by himself.

Aside form the bad calls the refs did make, there were some terrible penalties that they ignored. Particularly, there were two late hits on Eli, one when he was smacked in the face mask and another when he was hit late AND thrown violently to the ground.

I know I expect Osi off the team next year and I was nervous about him coming back and disrupting the flow of the JPP and the other DEs, but I have to admit he is playing very well and Fewell is using him perfectly. Notwithstanding, this Sunday against the run oriented 49ers, he should play a slightly lesser role, especialyl if it is bad weather. We should see a slightly heavier does of Tuck at DE with Canty, Joseph and Bernard playing DT.

MacKenzie played a very good game against the fast disruptive Packers OLB, Matthews. He made a few plays, but was kept under control most of the day.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Giants: Packers Playoff Game Review I

So much to talk about, this is going to take more than one blog post, but here goes.

Packers averaged 35 points per game during the year so it's easy to say that the Giants won this game on the defensive side of the ball. In the regular season game, the Giants scored about the same number of points as Sunday - 35 during regular season 37 in the playoffs. But the Packers were held way down - 38 to 20. A lot of the geniuses analyzing the game are saying that the Packers were stale, they dropped a lot of balls, didn't take advantage of their opportunities. They are implying that the Packers are way better than the Giants and just had a bad day. Nonsense. These are the same geniuses who said that the only way the Giants can stop the Packers is with a big pass rush. Fair enough assumption coming in, but they also looked at the game and said the same thing - that the Giants pass rush won the game. This analysis is simplistic and incorrect. The Giants played the game from the back end in, instead of from the front end back. The DB-field played its best game of the year and the DC Fewell had a wonderful game plan. The Giants DL did not go wild and rush in uncontrolled manner, trying to keep Rodgers in the pocket; they were very disciplined in their rush lanes. Combined with this, they were very physical with the Packers smallish but quick WRs and knocked them off their routes, taking away Rodgers' first read. This sounds elementary, but the Packers passing offense is based on a lot of timing routes. Rodgers often likes to get the ball out quickly on short routes and let the WRs make a play after the catch. If they don't throw those quick timing routes, he will hold the ball a bit longer and wait for his WRs to get deep. Fearing Giants pass rush, Packers went to more of the quicker routes often and Giants were successful at disrupting the first read. When Rodgers went to his second read, it was often well covered because the Giants did a good job covering at that second level and if Rodgers wanted to look deep, the Giants pass rush got home and forced an inaccurate throw. The drops by the Packers WRs were not just bad plays, and sloppy dropped balls, although some of them were. Most of them were Giants DBs disrupting the timing and the WRs reaching for balls that were slightly off the mark and arriving at timing that was off from what Rodgers usually does. Think back to how many times Rodgers dropped back looked for his first read and then kind of held the ball, moving around looking for someone to throw to. The slant and go route where Jennings was open deep, but Osi got in for the strip sack is a perfect example. Rodgers pump faked looking to go deep and had to hold the ball a beat longer, by which time Osi got in. I am not even blaming Ross for getting beat, because his internal clock may have been that Rodgers had to get rid of the ball then or he will get sacked. He bit on the pump fake, but relied on Osi to make the sack. The really encouraging thing for me about the defense this game is not so much that the defense played well - because they have been playing better the last few games. What is particularly promising is that the defense played well led by the DB-field not the DL. The DL dominated the game in the last three wins against the Jets, Cowboys and Falcons. Sunday against the Packers, the pass defense was great. It was hard to tell on TV, but Amukamara looked like he was playing well. He was singled up in coverage several times with Rodgers intending to pick on him, but his coverage was too good and Rodgers had to go elsewhere with the ball.

One could legitimately ask - where the f@#$% has this defense been the first 14 games of the year, but we'll leave that discussion for another day.

Boley played a wonderful game, leading the team in tackles, getting two sacks and mimicking the Rodgers wrestling belt celebration. Jacquian Williams continues to come on and played very well Sunday.

I know that I have been propping up and praising Eli all year, but he continues to surprise even me with his brilliant QB play. I know everyone says his brother Peyton, among others, is better. But - Peyton had a 3-6 record in his first 9 playoff games. Eli is 6-3. I am just saying. I think we are seeing the beginning of an uptick in Eli's career and he is going to amaze us for the next several years.

I can't let this post go without mentioning the ridiculous refereeing calls that everyone has been talking about. I said in one of my previews of the game that I was afraid that the Packers would get a few home town calls and they would affect the game. I was right - the Packers did get several home town calls, they did affect the game, but the Giants overcame them. Obviously, it shows how complete the Giants domination was, because they won going away by 17 points and bad referee calls directly caused 14 points for the Packers and a few other bad calls indirectly probably took away points from the Giants. The most often discussed calls were the blown fumble call by Greg Jennings with its replay review and the inexplicable roughing the passer call against Osi each of which led to TDs for the Packers. The bad spot on the run by DJ Ware forced a Giants punt and the terrible holding call on Chris Snee stopped another Giants drive giving momentum and field position to the Packers in the 3rd quarter.

The Hail Mary play at the end of the half was not a lucky play for the Giants - it was a terrible defensive play by the Packers and a play call by the Giants that caught the Packers off guard. There were 6 seconds left in the half and the Giants had the ball on the 37 with no timeouts left. Packers were expecting the Giants to try a  short sideline pass and get out of bounds for a FG try. To defend against this, the Packers DBs were playing up close to the line and were using outside leverage to defend those sideline patterns. Instead the Giants lined 3 WRs up on the left side of the defense, which is a standard formation for the deep Hail Mary try. Because the Packers were not ready for it, they had only two safeties back deep to defend it. When you see defenses protecting against the Hail Mary, there are usually 5 or 6 DBs back crowded around potential receivers and lots of arms jumping up and reaching to knock the ball away. Instead, you saw Nicks relatively alone going up unhindered with two DBs behind him, none in front of him and the ball falling easily into his arms. It was not a lucky play, it was terrible defense by the Packers combined with good play call and a great throw and catch by Eli and Nicks. That play really destroyed the Packers. It's demoralizing to go into the half giving up a score, especially on a play like that. More important, with that 10 point lead, the Packers had to play from behind and the Giants didn't need to play too risky on offense or defense.

I love the Giants WR corps; they complement each other very well. All can make plays after the catch and present a combination of elusiveness and great moves (Cruz), speed, great hands and physical WR play (Nicks) and pure speed (Manningham). In addition, Nicks and Cruz are very intuitive and instictive players and are usually right in tune with Eli, making the reads and the route adjustments very effective. Imagine what this receiving group would look like if they had a really good, athletic TE.Beckum is starting to make some nice plays in the passing game.

I hope everyone remembers some great Giants trivia: Nicks first TD catch against the Packers, which made the score 10-3 was the exact same play ..... I mean EXACT same play.... that Toomer scored on in the divisional round playoff game against the Cowboys in 2007. It was a simple in-cut, where the WR ran about 15 yards down field ran around 5-7 yards across the field towards the middle, caught the pass, stopped his route, made one guy miss (in Toomer's case it was an LB, for Nicks it was S), then turned, cut back to the sideline and ran for about 50-60 yards untouched into the end zone.

In 2007, Giants also won a first round playoff game against NFC South opponent (Tampa Bay in 2007, Atlanta in 2011) with Giants scoring 24 points in both games. In 2007, Giants won the divisional round against a heavily favored opponent, Cowboys on the road, as they did Sunday. But in that game, even though they outplayed the Cowboys badly, the Cowboys did have a chance to win the game with a throw into the end zone as time was expiring requiring INT by R W McQuarters to close the game. Sunday the last offensive play by the opponents was also an INT, but the game was not in doubt as Giants locked it up and won going away.

Giants first Super Bowl was 1986 and its second was 4 years later in 1990. Giants third Super Bowl was in 2007. It's now the end of the 2011 season, 4 years later. I'm just saying.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Giants: Packers - home field advantage

Every team likes to play at home feeling they have a home field advantage. This manifests itself in several ways - the home crowd gets behind the team, screaming and cheering tumultuously, charging up the emotions of the home team in what everyone agrees is an emotional sport. Occasionally the loud cheering can disrupt the opponent's offense and lead to a few false start penalties or lack of communication between the QB and his players in case he wants to change the play at the line of scrimmage. Finally, the cheering can sometimes influence the referees and the home team will get the benefit of the doubt on a few close calls. I am not a conspiracy theorist, but it sure seems like the Giants rarely get the favor of those home town calls when they are at home, but they suffer through them on the road. As a simple example, against the Falcons, the Giants pass rush was dominant yet the Falcons did not get called for a single offensive holding call. Nicks was held all over the place on a pass at the goal line, but PI or defensive holding was not called. By contrast, the Giants interior OL got called for several very soft holding calls which were questionable at best. In the Packers game at Met Life Stadium earlier this year, there were several calls that should have and certainly could have gone in the Giants favor, but were called instead for the Packers. The worst of these calls were the bobbled TD pass by Jennings in the end zone and the illegal contact call on Jacquian Williams, when in fact Finley pushed off Williams. I think that the NFL has become such a national TV sport, that a team like the Packers that gets national attention may get benefit of calls even on the road. Consequently when they are at home Sunday and have the additional benefit of the crowd noise, I am really concerned that they will get a few calls making it harder for the Giants to win.

I recall the conference championship game in Green Bay in 2007 and there are a few calls then that favored Green Bay. For one thing, the 90 yard TD pass that Driver caught in the first half, when Corey Webster "fell down". Actually, Driver put both hands on Websters shoulders and threw him to the ground in his release form the line of scrimmage. In the second half, Giants stopped Packers on a 3rd down but Sam Madison was called for a personal foul after the play was over - he was wrestling with a Green bay RB, who initiated the late contact, but fell down in the tussle, so the flag went against Madison. Packers scored a TD to go ahead on the next play. Giants ultimately won, of course, but it was not easy. It's hard enough to win on a level playing field. Let's hope the guys in the striped jerseys aren't calling the game for the Packers.

Giants: Packers - Preview III

Giants fans are all pumped up about the game this Sunday, with the sudden rise of the Giants defense and the rediscovery of the running game, they are almost expecting to win the game. I am as an exuberant and irrational as the next fan but I think we need a little dose of reality mixed in with our optimism. Look at it this way: Eli had a great year and has certainly thrust himself into the conversation when talking about the best QBs in the league. He threw for 4,900 yards, for 29 TDs and 16 INTs. Unfortunately, the guy on the other sideline had numbers that dwarfed Eli's impressive statistics. He threw for 45 TDs, more than 50% more than Eli and threw only 6 INTS compared to Eli's 16. Eli may have thrust himself into the picture when talking about the best QBs in the league, but Rodgers is first on line.

I guess the question is not - is the Packers offense with Rodgers better than the Giants offense with Eli, because they clearly are. The question is can the Giants defense rise up, make a few plays and level the playing field so that the Giants have a chance. But let's not fool ourselves, the Packers are defending Super Bowl champions, coming off a 15-1 season, with the best player in the NFL on their team, who happens to play the most important position on the field. Beating the Packers is not going to be an easy task. They are favored by 7 1/2 and probably should be favored by more. The only chance the Giants have is if their DL can knock Rodgers to the ground often enough to make him merely mortal instead of the superhuman player that he is.

Giants defense has improved by playing more man coverage underneath with safeties playing zone on top. There are a few holes that this creates. First, if the safeties are giving help to the outside WRs, which they should to take away the big plays, the middle of the field with Jermichael Finley, the Packers uber-talented TE will have space to roam. Second, with the underneath CBs playing exclusively man, lanes for Rodgers to run will open up and he is a very good runner. To handle this, Giants need a big game from their LBs, particularly Boley and Williams in coverage on Finley. This is a tough task, but I think Williams might be up for it. He was a half step late last time Giants played the Packers, but he has improved since then and he is a talented, athletic player. Keeping Rodgers from running is a tough challenge. Keeping a LB spying on him reduces coverage on the back end. Keeping the DL with very controlled disciplined rush lanes to keep him in the pocket compromises their ability to get to the passer. I would occasionally keep a LB in the area to challenge him, but would not sell my defense down the river to stop Rodgers running. Giants have atheltic DL and you have to hope that they can jkeep him controlled.

It also seems like a game where Amukamara will have to play some CB. Packers go with 4 WR often and the Giants will likely play 6 DBs against this formation. Fewell has been saying that Amukamara looks more confident and is playing better in practice. Let's see if he's right. Giants will probably be in a lot of nickel coverage because of Packers inclination to pass the ball. Further, the Packers don't run the ball very effectively and even when they do run, they don't have the power running game that can hurt a light defensive configuration. 

This is going to be a very difficult game to win. Giants have to play a near perfect game on offense. I think they may need to score in the 30s to win this game, because even a very good defensive effort will likely not keep the Packers below 28 points. The worry is that the Packers defense finally wakes up and has a good game making it difficult for the Giants offense. This is essentially the same Packers defense that played very well last year when the Packers won the title. For some reason they took an enormous step backwards this year with mostly the same personnel. I think the Packers changed their defensive strategy and became a high risk, gambling defense. This leads to lots of yardage yielded but also lots of turnovers. The Pacekrs defensive strategy seems to be a team wide game plan. It is as if they are saying: our offense can outscore your offense if they get the same number of possessions in the game. If, on the other hand, we have more possessions for our offense because we get a few turnovers, we will CERTAINLY outscore your offense and win in a rout.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Giants: odds and ends week 19

I love to read the experts picking the games in the local newspapers. They often do this very detailed analysis, explaining what will happen in the game and why they think it will happen and provide a pick against the points always in a very assertive almost condescending tone. Of course, they are right about 50% of the time, which is how everybody does in Veags when they pick against those spreads. Every so often, like for playoff games, because they are able to concentrate on just a few games instead of a full 16 game schedule, they put on their thinking caps, work extra hard, analyze the statistics and tendencies of each team extra hard and do worse than 50%.

I got a real kick out of the handicapping expert Richard Witt who analyzed the Sunday football playoffs last week. He was 100% wrong. He picked the Falcons over the Giants to win outright, not even needing the points and in the over/under betting, he took over 46 1/2 points. Not only did he get the winning team wrong, but because he took the over, he was forecasting a wild, high scoring game. Maybe if it had been a high scoring game and the Falcons covered at the end, he could have at least said that he got the spirit of the game right - he knew it would be a wild, high scoring affair. But it was a defensive struggle and the team he thought was going to dominate instead got dominated itself.

He did the same thing with the Sunday AFC game between the Broncos and Steelers. Here too, he picked under when picking the over/under which was I think 37 points. He also took the Steelers to cover the substantial point spread they were giving. Instead, the Broncos not only covered the spread, but they did not even need any points, because they won the game outright. Furthermore, the game was a high scoring affair, completely contrary to his forecast. Once again, the expert not only got the winning team wrong, but completely misread the game from a defensive struggle he thought it would be to one where lots of yards and points were amassed by the teams. I love it when a self proclaimed expert receives his comeuppance.

Giants: Packers preview II

 People always talk about stopping a great offense by playing ball control, running the ball and keeping the other QB off the field. Giants have to be smart enough to NOT subscribe to that as a game plan. Giants are a big play offense and even though the running game has had a little revival recently, they are not built to pound the ball, convert 3rd down after 3rd down and move the ball in 15 play drives down the field. They led the league in plays greater than 30 yards and the Packers defense gave up the most big plays. Seems to me the convergence of those two revealing statistics is where the offensive game plan should be headed (he said somewhat sarcastically and definitely in understated fashion). The Giants ran for 170 yards against the Falcons and for over 100 against the Cowboys the week before, but they still failed to convert several short yardage situations on 3rd and 4th downs. Even the one 4th down they made at the goal line against the Falcons was not blocked very well and required a spin move by Jacobs, who was initially hit behind the line, to convert the 4th and 1. Giants running yardage came on a few long runs that they broke, not on consistent 3-4-5 yard pops, especially in the 1st quarter. The mantra for this week is one I have always embraced: throw early, run late. That goes in two ways.... throw early in the downs, so the defense is less likely to dial up a blitz and the pass blocking will be better. But more importantly this week - throw early in the game and get a lead, then run the ball late in the game to hold on to the ball and move the clock. Maybe the Packers will be a little stale early, because of their bye and resting their starters in week 17. If Giants attack from the outset, they might be able to get an early lead and get the Packers to play from behind. Rodgers will still make his throws and get his points, but maybe a little pressure on them, when they have had virtually none all year can help the Giants play a little looser and the Packers a little tighter. I am not saying that Eli should be hoisting up 50 yard throws on every play, but they need to take their shots down the field and attack the Packers DBs. Packers DBs and LBs like to gamble and jump routes, one of the reasons they lead the NFL in INTs. Eli has to be aggressive, but still careful with the ball and anticipate when the Packers might be looking for a pick. With this pass first mentality, I am not saying that time of possession is completely immaterial. But it is secondary in importance and does not need to be achieved by a pounding running game. Modest prediction: Manningham will make a big play on a double move at some point in the game.

KC Chiefs beat the Packers by putting on a big pass rush and by playing aggressive man-to-man with their talented CBs. Giants don't have great CBs, so they will need to rely on even better play from the DL to get after Rodgers. It could be that simple - if the Packers OL can block the Giants DL, then Rodgers will be hard to slow down and will put up lots of points. If Giants DL can beat up the Packers OL and get to Rodgers, then Giants have a chance.

The interesting defensive game plan questions is whether the Giants can survive with just a 4 man pass rush or whether they need to blitz often to get pressure. Another big question is how to handle Jermichael Finley, the Packers talented TE. Can Giants handle him with a LB, most likely Williams or do they need to play and extra DB. Packers don't run the ball very well - in fact in the game earlier this year in Met Life Stadium, Rodgers was the Packers leading rusher. What that says to me is that the Giants will be playing a lot of nickel coverage all the time, but the risk is that if the Giants play man-to-man exclusively, it could open running lanes for Rodgers. Giants may need to have a LB keep an eye on Rodgers, but that is risky because it takes someone out of coverage. Giants need a huge game from their DL and from their defense overall. Duh.

 When did the Giants players forget that they were members of the NY Giants and start thinking they were the NY Jets? JPP guaranteeing... WRs talking about making big plays on the vulnerable Packers DBs.... defense very confident. What happened to "Talk is cheap, play the game".

Giants: Packers preview I

This is going to be a tough game. Giants are clearly playing their best football of the year, with the defense emerging as a productive unit just in the nick of time. Offense has been good all year and shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, that unit also seems to be improving, with Manningham now returned to full health, with Bradshaw recovered from his foot problems, with Jacobs inexplicably finding a lost step and (therefore) with the running game returning to some form of productivity. Let's not forget the special teams - even though Tynes has missed a few very makeable FGs in the last few weeks (a touch of nostalgia there - have to go into Green bay with some worries about Tynes kicking FGs) the punter Weatherford has been absolutely lights out, putting a ribbon on what has been a great year punting. All of those things seem to be pointing up for the Giants and presumably give them a chance in this game. But let's not forget that Aaron Rodgers is the best player in the NFL and if he gets hot, the Packers will likely win, no matter what the Giants do.

The only way to stop a great QB who has great offensive skill position players around him is to get after him with a pass rush. If you can do it with just the DL so that you can still drop 6 or 7 into coverage, even better. The Giants defense picked up steam and started to play better the last few games of the season and everyone attributed it to the following significant changes:
  • The DL got healthy: Tuck recovered from some of his nagging injuries and Osi returned to the field.  
  • Boley returned to health and shored up the LB play
  • DC Fewell changed the play calls, went to less conservative zone coverage and mixed in a higher percentage of man-to-man underneath with cover 2 zone on top.
All of these were contributors to the defensive revival, but we're missing a few key points. On the DL, it's more than just Tuck and Osi that improved play there. We have to also consider the improved play of JPP. I know he has been strong all year, but he is coming on more and more strongly as the season moves along. Consider that he played very little organized football in his career, playing not at all in HS and starting only one year in college. If you consider Division I college the only serious learning ground that prepare a young man for playing in the NFL, JPP's experience is seriously lacking. He played college ball two years at two different community colleges, then played one year at University of South Florida, hardly a football mecca. He was at USF for one year in 2009 and started 7 games. That's it. 7 games of preparation for playing against the greatest athletes in the world, for learning technique, for learning situational football and for getting some decent coaching to help get him to the next level. My point is that each additional game that JPP plays at this level represents approximately 15% of his entire college career as a starter at the D-1 level. He is improving game by game and practically snap by snap. Fewell no doubt retarded his progress slightly by playing him at DT for several games when he lined up other players at DE. Since he has returned to RDE when Osi hurt his ankle, he has been absolutely dominant.

Second big improvement in the LB corps besides Boley is the improvement of the other LBs - Blackburn has been a net add to the group, but Kiwanuka and Jacquian Williams have both greatly improved their play. Perhaps the same reasoning can be applied to these two as we used for JPP. Kiwanuka is a natural DE, played that position his entire college career at BC. He was shifted to LB two years ago, then was shifted back to DE last year and now is playing at LB again. My hope is that he will be shifted back to DE next year, but for now, it is probably true that his learning curve is steep and he has to develop instincts for the position. Williams, another USF product like JPP, played LB at USF, but probably did not grow with the same level of quality coaching in college that exists at the major football factories like LSU, Alabama, Tennessee, USC, etc. Therefore, for him too, every game of experience is invaluable towards becoming a legitimate NFL LB. Williams has tremendous speed and has the potential to play the LB position at a high level for many years. He made a lot of bad mistakes and gave up big plays early in the year, when he was thrown onto the field and forced to play all 3 downs before he was ready. Now they have reduced his package somewhat and he plays primarily the nickel LB. He has excelled the last several weeks in pass coverage, often lining up against the opposing TE man-to-man. He held down 3 very good TEs - Keller, Witten and Gonzalez. He was matched up against Finley in the Green Bay game and Finley had a big night. Williams went for the INT on the first play of the winning FG drive at the end of that game and gave up a 25 yard completion. This will be a tough cover for Williams or Boley, but holding down Finley is important part of the defense for the Giants. Williams success in covering TEs allowed Fewell to go to a more aggressive man scheme dedicating DBs to covering WRs.

Back to the subject - Giants have to play great defense and hope to hold the Packers to around 28 points. It will be tough to score that many points, Giants have to play a very clean offensive game with no big turnovers and cash in on their chances with TDs, not FGs. This game is in the hands of the QB - Giants should sprinkle in some runs, but should not be afraid to throw the ball deep.

When the Giants were heading into the first Dallas game at 6-6, having lost 4 in a row, playing poor defensive football,  I truly thought there was no way the Giants would make the playoffs. I even entertained dark fears that the Giants would run the table (in a bad way) and finish at 6-10. Look where they are now: in the playoffs, wildcard win in the bank and a game this Sunday against the best team in football, # 1 seed in the NFC. This NFL season has been filled with more unexpected results than any other season I can ever remember.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Giants: Falcons game review II

The collision between Aaron Ross and JPP did not seem so severe when it happened. It wasn't one of those direct helmet to helmet hits where you kind of cringe when watching it. Of course I am not a doctor, but my guess is that if it's possible to come back from a concussion in one week, Ross might be ready. This one did not look so severe.

Must have made Ross feel really good when both players were lying nearly motionless on the ground after the collision and the crowd started cheering JPP, JPP, JPP. Like Ross didn't exist.

Everyone is praising Coughlin for the timeout he took with 2:05 left in the half, but it was a bad call. Falcons had 3rd and 21 deep in their own territory, so you have to figure Giants had a good chance of getting the ball back and Coughlin was rightly thinking about preserving clock for his offense. Taking a time out there saves 5 seconds, but saving it instead for after the two minute warning would be more beneficial. Suppose for example the Giants were to get the ball back on offense and complete a 20 yard pass in the middle of the field. It takes much more than 5 seconds for all the OL-men to hustle down field, for the team to line up, for the play to get called, for Eli to make sure everyone is on side and to snap the ball. In that case, the TO would save much more than 5 seconds and it would be more valuable then. In other words, I'd rather spend those 5 seconds and save one extra timeout for after the 2 minute warning.

Fewell is moving around his DL-men a lot which probably makes it difficult for the opposing OL to prepare. JPP was lining up often at LDE with Osi at his natural RDE slot. I don't love that, because I want my best pass rusher in the RDE slot; kind of like having your best hitter in baseball always hitting 3rd. At least JPP is at end and not lost in the middle at DT. Tuck played a very good game and the LBs played by far their best game of the season. Kiwanuka is becoming a very good LB. When Osi leaves the team this off season, Kiwanuka will be back at DE, especially because the young LBs will be contributing next year.

I don't know how, but Brandon Jacobs seems to have found the step he lost earlier in the year. He seems quicker. Boothe is a much better G than Diehl is and Diehl is settling in at LT, though he's not great. Most of the good runs for the Giants have come on the right side of the line. Boothe is pretty athletic and pulls well to the opposite side of the field and Snee played well. The pass protection improved as the game moved on, it was really poor in the first quarter. Baas's play at C is really improving and is a big reason the running game is doing better.

One thing I like about the Giants is that there seems to be a healthy respect between the offensive and defensive units. Eli was throwing bouquets towards the defense saying it kept them in the game until the offense could get going in the second half. Earlier in the year, you heard the defense praising the offense for holding the season together. You have to give Coughlin some of the credit for team unity and chemistry.

One of the reasons the Giants defense has played well last few weeks is that the LBs are playing man-to-man coverage often against the TEs which frees the safeties to concentrate on helping the WRs. Neither Witten of the Cowboys, Keller of the Jets nor Gonzalez of the Falcons did anything to hurt the Giants in their team's passing game. However, that is going to change this week against Green Bay. Witten, Keller  and Gonzalez are all good pass catchers but they don't have the speed to burn a LB. However, Jermichael Finley of the Packers is more like a WR in a TE body and Giants will have to commit a S to guard him. Maybe Prince Amukamara gets on the field more this week in passing downs to give the Giants extra DBs to account for Finley. Of course, this assumes that Ross gets over his concussion and will play. If not, the Giants may be really shorthanded when the Packers go to 3 WR + Finley at TE.

The DB-field played well last week, but the Packers have so many weapons and Rodgers is so far superior to Matt Ryan, that the performance of the defense will be even more dependent on a big time pass rush to at least slow down the Packers a little. Giants can't expect to hold the Packers down and dominate them like they did the Falcons. You know... you can't stop him, you can only hope to contain him. But they need to at least hold their score to a reasonable number so that Eli and the offense have a chance.

I am still ticked off about the terrible refereeing at the end of the half of the Falcons game, that probably took points off the board for the Giants. On 2nd and 10, Eli completed a pass of 11 yards to Nicks. The spot was completely wrong on the catch by Nicks, it was moved back 1 full yard. It may have been a first down even with the bad spot, the referee should have called for a measurement. Because it was such a bad spot and because the referee signaled no-first-down without a measurement, the replay official should have buzzed to challenge the actions on the field. It was a complete failure of the refereeing and what particularly bothers me is that it was not just the initial ruling that was wrong. The backup processes that are in place to prevent such egregious errors - the call for a measurement and the use of replay official both failed. It was even worse, because of the actions by the officials that I am about to describe. As you know there are officials who work the sticks and first down markers, often referred to as the chain gang. The equipment they work with are two sticks and a ten yard chain connecting them as well as a small mat with a big red arrow on it that they place on the ground right by the first down marker. The purpose this serves is, for a  player who is running and looking for the first down marker, it allows him to pick it up easily by this bright red mat on the floor. When the offense gets a first down, the chain gang picks up all the equipment - the sticks, the chain and the bright arrow and moves it to the new line of scrimmage. What you may not have seen at home on TV, but what I saw happen at the game was that the chain gang, which has to act quickly and decisively in the two minute drill, saw that Nicks made the first down and immediately picked up the arrow getting ready to move it. When they saw the referee signal 3rd down and not 1st down, they immediately placed the arrow right back down where it originally was. Eli probably saw this action by the chain gang and may have processed the information, if only viscerally, to indicate that the Giants in fact made the first down and he proceeded on that assumption. So - it's bad enough that the referees made a bad call and the backup systems to prevent bad calls failed. The actions by the officials managing the first down markers actually contributed to deceiving the Giants into proceeding with bad information. Ridiculous.

Hynoski's blocking continues to be really solid, but Ballard, especially for a guy who is 285, is really mediocre as is his TE partner, Bear Pascoe. I guess TEs don't only need to be big to block effectively. because they are running and blocking in space, they need to be fairly athletic. Perhaps Ballard and Pascoe just aren't.

I look for Cruz to have a return to putting up good numbers against Green bay. The Packers no doubt saw what happens when the defense shades their pass protection towards Cruz and leaves Nicks 1 on 1. Look for them to pay attention to Nicks again. If they double Nicks and Cruz, Manningham has to come up big.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Giants: Falcons game review I

I said last week in analyzing the Cowboys game in week 17 (remember that game.... seems like ages ago, doesn't it?) that the Cowboys game was the Giants best game of the year. I meant that as almost a dig at the Giants and as a moderating force to chill the wave of enthusiasm that the was washing over Giants fans who were making reservations for a trip to Indianapolis. In other words - don't get too pumped up because the Giants played one good game this year. Well, that analysis lasted one game, because the Giants just played their best game of the year and knocked the Cowboys game out of the #1 ranking. They were weak on offense in the first quarter, but strong on defense all the way through. Once the offense got going in the 2nd quarter and especially the second half it was a complete, dominating victory. The encouraging things, if you're a Giants fan (and it you're reading this blog, I know you are) is that the Giants showed aspects of improvement to their team play that they had not shown all year. For one thing, while the defensive effort was clearly keyed by the pass rush and the play of the DL, there was excellent play by the LBs and very good coverage on the back end from the DB-field. This is something we have not seen all year. Perhaps the good coverage on the back end was at least partly influenced by the play calling of Atlanta. They were clearly spooked by the Giants pass rush, wanted to get the ball out of Ryan's hands quickly and barely challenged the Giants secondary deep with any down field throws. Nevertheless, the coverage was good with Webster having a particularity good game. Second, the Giants found their long lost running game on offense with 170 yards and more significantly with a few 30+ yard running plays. Jacobs ran very well.

Giants outcoached the Falcons on several fronts. I have been posting here for a long time that while Cruz has been a revelation, has had a great year and is a really dangerous player, it is really Nicks that makes the Giants passing game go. I guess the Falcons didn't read my blog, because they put extra coverage on Cruz, doubling him often, leaving Nicks often in single coverage and he made them pay. What I love about the Giants WR crew is that they are all great after the catch. We've seen Cruz do that all year breaking big plays after the catch and we saw Nicks do it yesterday on his 72 yard TD run. This is actually very important for bad weather games, because you can still make some plays even if you can't throw it deep.

Every game, it seems, Eli makes a few "wow" throws and he didn't disappoint us yesterday. For me there were three - the TD pass to Manningham was exceptional. It was Eli's 2nd or 3rd read and he had a window of about 6 inches to fit the ball into, hitting Manningham right in his fingertips with a  throw that was about 40 yards in the air. That play was on my end of the stadium and I was watching Manningham on the play - when Eli let the ball go, Manningham was not open, was not clear of the defender. When the ball came down, he was about half a step behind the CB while the S was a step or two on the other side, literally a few inches to fit the ball into on a 40 yard throw. Like I said - wow. There was another one to Manningham on the next Giants possession, the 3rd down conversion where Eli lifted the ball over the LB and dropped it down into Manningham on the sidelines who kept his feet in bounds. Eli also made a perfect throw to Nicks on a 19 yard gain on 3rd and 8 in the first half. Nicks was completely covered on the play and Eli had to be perfect with his ball placement on a  low throw to give Nicks a chance to catch it.

The refereeing was horrible on Sunday with several terrible calls that went against the Giants. The holding calls against the interior of the OL were all bogus. Snee (twice) Diehl and Baas all were called for holding when the DL they were blocking  fell down. Giants also got a terrible spot on a catch by Nicks with about 1 minute left in the half. Play was a first down but refs marked it short of the first down. Eli thought it was a first down and threw the ball down the field instead of trying a short ball for a first down. The most egregious call was the failure to call PI when Nicks was held at the goal line in the 3rd quarter. The play should have given Giants 1st and goal from the 1, but was ruled incomplete and Giants had to kick a FG.