Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Jerry Jones

Whenever I try to exercise my well founded, deeply rooted Judaeo-Christian ethic and work at trying to forgive those teams/people that I detest, and try to convince myself that I am really a good person, who is kind and compassionate, with forgiveness in his heart, the teams that I detest just go and do something, well.. detestable... and get me all riled up again. Jerry Jones played the part this time. Actually it's always someone on the Cowboys, because the top ten list of teams that I hate starts with the Cowboys, ends with the Cowboys and has the Cowboys filling the other eight slots on the list.  JJ, owner of the Cowboys and brilliant GM that he is, took the microphone at a Cowboys pep rally, (pep rallies... how lame)  invited everyone to come to Cowboys Stadium and promised that his 'Boys would kick the Giants asses. Giants have won the last 3 games, but they have all been fairly close games, with only the last game of the season decided by as many as 17 points. But come on Jerry, just shut up. At least it shows that he is obsessed with the Giants and it must have really just killed him when Eli beat them in the stadium opener, then again last year coming back from 12 points down in the 4th quarter after knocking them out of the playoffs back in 2007 when they were the #1 seed in the NFC. I don't know if Giants will beat them this year, but it sure would be nice to do so.

Thomas Injury

It's really sad - Thomas had an ACL tear in college. He works hard, rehabs, gets drafted by the Giants, makes the team. Elevates himself to a starter and is in position to rise to the level of all pro last year in his walk year which means a big contract. But he blows out his ACL again in a meaningless preseason game because of an inadvertent collision with his own teammate, no less. Then not only is he deprived his chance at a big contract, he is even denied the chance to participate with his teammates who go all the way and win the title. He spends the entire year rehabbing again. Works his tail off to get back to his high athletic level. Giants, class organization that they are, offer him a contract that is back-loaded, meaning that they don't have big risk if he doesn't make it back, and if he has recovered and returns to a high level of play, the Giants get an appreciative player at a slightly lower price than the going rate for top shelf CBs. By all accounts, he looked strong and was moving fluidly in OTAs and in the first few days of camp. Then, an innocent slip and fall precipitates another ACL injury and Thomas is out again. The second ACL tear was career threatening, but this one is probably the killer. You've got to feel so sorry for him. We non-professional athletes relate to the game as just that - a game. We compare it to our own experiences playing in the schoolyard or in high school or even in college if we were so fortunate to do so and remember the joy and thrill of teamwork, competition and camaraderie with our teammates. If we were out and could not play for a while because of a broken bone or a cold, we would be disappointed at the loss of these enjoyable opportunities. But for professional athletes it's their income. It's their life. He trained his entire life to make a living doing this and now it might be gone. That's why I generally am sympathetic to the player who is trying to hold out for more money. One false step and his career and earning potential is over. I know that when they sign a contract they're supposed to live up to it, but it's hard to take a hard line when you see something like this happen.

Update: Latest news is that it is a partial tear of the ACL. He may get arthroscopic surgery to explore the extent of the damage. I guess we're going to find out what Prince A can bring to the table. CBs in football are like starting pitching in baseball: you can never have enough of them.

Not to get cold and machiavellian about this, but with Thomas' career on hold, Giants will surely not take the option and will not pay the roster bonus due him next March. But that means that there will be some more salary cap room next year and perhaps it means that Giants will reevaluate the Osi situation and make him an offer. Of course, they also have to throw some money at Cruz, Nicks, Tuck and Corey Webster in the next several years, so maybe they save their money for that.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Training Camp Battles

With all the analysis and focus in the papers on the performance of various players in training camp, it's important to remember that the players have only started putting on pads for a day. The local newspapers are filled with stories and blog posts about great catches, heroic INTs, great moves by the DEs to avoid a block and it's all pretty meaningless. While preseason games are unimportant - it's really only the results of the game... who wins and who loses....that are unimportant. The performance of the players in those games is often more important than what they do in practice. Remember an unknown named Victor Cruz who came into a Giants-Jets preseason game in 2010, caught three TD passes and captured everyone's attention. He made the team in 2010 got injured and was IR'ed early in the season. But to the watchful Giants coaches and front office, he may have been gone, but he was definitely not forgotten. As you all know, he made the team in 2011, broke the Giants single season record for passing yardage and really didn't even play the whole season. He played well in practice that summer, but opened eyes in the game. We won't really know who shines until the preseason games, but it is worthwhile to note that Jernigan, who was completely invisible last year and had the dear-in-the-headlights rookie look is making plays deep down the field in camp. Giants want Cruz to be the slot receiver in their three-WR formations, so it is important that Jenrigan can play on the outside, which he is apparently doing. Like I said, it's only practice - wait to see what he can do against live defenses.

The word from camp is that Herzlich looks very trim, quick and has improved his knowledge of the defense and especially his pass coverage skills. Blackburn is currently the starter, but everyone agrees that Herzlich is more athletic and faster, while Blackburn is bigger and more of a run stopper. Of course he did make two huge interceptions last year against two of the best QBs in football - Rodgers in his first game back and Brady in the Super Bowl. He also made a huge fumble recovery and return in the Packers playoff game, showing smarts and decent speed. I wonder if Giants will go to some sort of platoon at MLB, with Blackburn playing in short yardage and running down and with Herzlich playing on passing downs. Most teams don't like to do that, since the MLB is the play caller and center of the defense, but we'll see. Maybe Boley wears the wire and calls the plays, since he may be the only true 3-down LB on the team. The other indicator that the Giants really like Herzlich for the long term (and Blackburn for now) is that they have moved Greg Jones from the middle to the outside. They have so much depth (and talent, IMO) at LB, it will be really interesting to see how things shake out. I'm on record as saying that Kiwanuka should get more snaps as DE, to keep the rotation fresh and to replace Dave Tollefson in the 4-DE alignment (dubbed the NSACAR package). This sets him up to take over when/if Osi leaves at the end of the year. It looks to me like at least one very capable LB may not make the team coming out of camp.

There is also a big crowd in the offensive backfield. Behind Ahmad Bradshaw there is DJ Ware, Da'rel Scott, Andre Brown and rookie David Wilson. Giants won't carry all those RBs. Last year Brown was carried on practice squad and between Jacobs, Ware and Bradshaw, other RBs either didn't dress or if they did, got very few carries. It's easy to assume that Brown will not make the team again and Wilson will simply replace Brandon Jacobs on the roster. But I have a feeling it won't work that way. Last year, DJ Ware was often the Giants 3rd down back, being very effective catching out of the backfield and running the draw plays effectively. However the makeup of the RBs is different his year - Giants drafted Wilson to be the 3rd down breakaway threat and they lost the power back in Jacobs, ineffective though he might have been in those short yardage plays. But still, you want to have one RB with a bit more size and I think there's a good chance that the Giants will keep Andre Brown instead of Ware.Even though they are both about the same size, Brown is a bit more of a power back, while Ware is a little more of a finesses runner. I can see Giants trying to trade Ware towards the end of training camp or simply cutting him if they can't and keeping Brown instead of him.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Looking ahead to training camp

The day has arrived and the 2012 NFL season begins as various teams have started reporting to summer training camp. Giants began reporting as well and will start practicing Friday 27th July. There are a number of interesting questions and positional battles coming up this summer. The biggest question mark and perhaps the most important unit requiring improvement from last year is the OL. Last year the OL played poorly; they were at the bottom of the league in rushing yards per attempt and Eli was among the most pressureed QBs in the league. Kareem MacKenzie had an awful year and showed that he is at the end of a very solid career. Diehl did not play well at all when he was starting at LG and played a little better when he slid out to LT, but was far from great. Kevin Boothe was a very valuable substitute and played C when Baas was hurt and started at G to fill the void made by Diehl moving to T. He was solid but not much more than that. Many times, his lack of athleticism and quickness got him in trouble and nearly got Eli killed. Snee is the best OL-man but he was hurt last year and his effectiveness was cut down. Beatty played reasonably well at LT before getting hurt, but there was not enough of a body of work to judge if he is a top shelf LT. The shuffle with MacKenzie's release has Diehl moving to RT, Beatty coming back to LT and (initially) Boothe slotted in as the starting LG with Baas at C.

I would like to see someone beat Boothe out for that starting position, because I believe hs is more valuable to the Giants as a substitute than as a starter. Mitch Petrus looked good to me the few times he played - he is a very good run blocker and his pass blocking was coming along and has to improve for him to be a good starter. There are some other candidates for OL play and James Brewer is someone getting a lot of attention from the coaching staff for some time at T. Giants need Baas to simply improve his play or this will go down as one of the only FA busts Reese has ever had. He simply did not play very well last year. There were changes in the OL and lack of training camp time may have caused some of the weak play and lack of communication with a new OL trying to bond. They have a good OL coach in Flaherty and they need to get better play out of the OL this year.

The other thing that affected the running game last year was poor blocking from the TEs and FBs. Though Ballard is really big, he is not quick and did not get himself in good position to block effectively. Pascoe also whiffed on a lot of blocks both on the backside seal as well as lead blocking at the point of attack. Interestingly, Beckum, who is the smallest of the three seems to do a better job though he is somewhat limited in who he can block because of his size. Hynoski started off poorly but as the game slowed down for him, his blocking really improved towards the end of the season and playoffs. This year, Bennet replacing Ballard should help the running game because he is a great blocker, both in-line as well as in open space. The contribution from the TEs and the development of the rookie TE Adrien Robinson is another interesting story in camp. Reese spoke highly of him from an athletic point of view - let's see what he's got.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


I just love the experts who forecast team's records and performance for the upcoming year. Some of them actually do the work and put some thought and effort into it. They analyze the players, look at the team's schedule, consider the new players they've drafted, incoming FAs, the players they lost, evaluate the injuries they had last year that might have affected performance, etc. You know.... they actually think. Then there are the dopes who take the short cut and simply look at last year's record, maybe look at one or two additions/subtractions of players and predict confidently whether last year's performance will be better or worse on the basis of this limited analysis.

Consider for example two strikingly opposite approaches to this "analysis" from two of the senior columnists on cbs.sportsline.com. In one, Pete Prisco does the heavy lifting. He actually did simulations and forecasts of each game played on the NFL schedule on the basis of strength of teams, home/road, bye schedule and most of all realtive quality of each team. He came out with the somewhat surprising result that the NE Patriots would go undefeated this year, but at least he is judging the talent on the field seriously. He also determined that the Packers would represent the NFC in the Super Bowl with a 14-2 record. He came out also with the prediction that the Giants would be 13-3, a very strong record considering the difficulty of their schedule. He obviously judged that the Giants would be a very strong team, but his analysis was that the Packers were a little better and would carry the day. Prisco likes the Packers to win the NFC, but if you asked him if the Giants had a chance, he would have to say yes. According to his forecast, Giants would be the number 2 seed in the NFC and surely would at least have a punchers chance against a team just one game better than them in the standings.

On the other hand, Clark Judge did not do a team-by-team forecast, he was just asked to answer 10 hot questions going into the NFL season. The first question was "do the Giants have a chance of repeating". He did absolutely no analysis on the quality of the current team and simply said: (I'm summarizing) they have no chance. His analysis was just - they barely snuck into the playoffs last year then got on a roll (a euphemism for saying they were lucky) and won the whole deal. No way those confluence of circumstances repeat this year.

No analysis of how the injuries last year contributed to their mediocre regular season and how the return of some of their key players towards the end contributed to the team's late success. No mention of the fact that the two top draft choices last year contributed virtually nothing and this year their return to health means essentially that the Giants have an infusion of talent with four 1st/2nd rounders joining the team. No mention about how serious injuries on the OL contributed to the Giants being the worst running team in the league last year and improved play in the OL with the upgrade of the RBs with 1st rounder Wilson might make an improvement there. Giants have, arguably three of the top eight DEs in football; they missed cumulatively about 14 games of playing time last year, and were diminished in performance for many of the others. Next year, if they return to health, the defense will be much more powerful just because of their presence. No mention of that from Mr. Judge.

I am not saying that Prisco is absolutely right and Judge is absolutely wrong. I am saying that Judge's opinions are based on loose speculation rather than analysis.

The 30,000 foot view of the Giants 2011 season is that they made it through the regular season and into the playoffs entirely on the right shoulder of their QB. When the rest of the team came back to health and started playing better, Eli had some reinforcements with him and took the Giants to the promised land. Guess what - those reinforcements will be there the entire year and there are some new players arriving to strengthen the team. Perhaps I am being overly optimistic, and I know I am a Giants fan, but I see a really good season for the Giants this year.

Monday, July 23, 2012

More stuff about Eli

I came across a few statistics about Eli (thanks to my friend Ray and my brother for directing me to them). There are lots of QBs in the NFL that put up their numbers like A-Rod puts up his homers. In case you don't know what I mean, it sure seems like A-Rod gets a disproportionate percentage of his HRs and RBIs against tired back of the bullpen pitchers in games where one team or the other already has a 6 run lead. The same can be said about some QBs who continue to pile up their stats in games against second rate defenses  where the lead is already two scores. Our boy Eli is not that way at all. Of Eli's 4,933 yards last year, 3,000 of them were complied when the Giants were behind in the game. Now, you might say that is expected, because a QB is forced to throw when his team is behind and likely to compile more yardage then. Maybe so, but Eli threw for a little more than 60% of his yards trying to bring the Giants back and that's more than a statistical coincidence or one caused by flow of a game.

If you don't like that statistic, try this one which my brother directed me to and I verified on coldhardfootballfacts.com. The piece did an analysis of QBs that can bring their team back from a 4th quarter deficit. When your team is down 2 or 3 scores, the game is excluded from consideration because you can assume that the team is getting routed and no QB would be able to bring his team back. However, the analysis considered all games where the team was down by 1 score (i.e. between 1 and 8 points) and counted how many times the QB brought his team back to win. It turns out Aaron Rodgers is really poor in this situation, with a record of 3-18 when the Packers are down. Tony Romo, often discredited as one who is unclutch in the fourth quarter has in fact brought his team back around 35% of the time in such situations. Here's the punch line: the best active QB by far in this situation is Giants QB Eli Manning who has a 21-22 record in games where the Giants were down by a score sometime in the 4th quarter. To emphasize this point, in the recent two Super Bowl runs, Eli brought the Giants back from fourth quarter deficits in 4 of the 8 games. In 2007, Giants were down 17-14 to the Cowboys in the divisional round game and were down to the Patriots (twice) in the Super Bowl. In the recent playoffs, Giants were down in the 4th quarter in the conference championship against the 49ers and the Super Bowl to the Patriots.

He is demonstrably the best clutch QB in the NFL.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Off season contract moves

Giants made two interesting contract and roster moves this off season, one that was brilliant and one that didn't work out well at all. Let's do the good news first: Osi's contract bump. This was played perfectly by Reese and the Giants front office. The background is that Osi has been an unhappy camper for a while about his salary; he felt that he has outplayed his contract and deserved a new one. He preferred an extension so he could stay with NYG and finish his career, but if not, he would pursue FA when the current contract expired at the end of 2012. Giants briefly explored trading him during training camp last year, but withdrew their pursuit when the offers coming back were not good enough. They kept Osi without renegotiating and he (mysteriously) decided on knee surgery and suffered an injury mid-season which together cost him nearly half the season.

How to handle Osi this year truly left Reese and the Giants on the horns of a Hobbesian dilemma. They didn't want to go into this year with the same contract distractions as last year. Trading him was not an attractive option: Osi has lost value on the trade market partly because of his injuries last year, partly because of his advancing age, partly because of having only one year left on his contract that an acquiring team would control in a trade and partly because while he played very well last year when he was healthy, he also reenforced the notion that he is not an all around stud DE but more of a speed pass rush specialist. Adding to the problem for the Giants, Osi is a popular player in the locker room, a natural leader among his peers. He is someone the Giants did not want to simply kick to the curb for fear of making the other players on the team feel that Giants were not the class organization they thought it was and one they want to be a part of. On the other side of this dilemma comes the thing I have been writing about for months on this blog - Giants could not afford to extend both Kiwanuka and Osi whose contracts were both up at the end of 2012. If they had to choose one, they should choose Kiwanuka who is the better all around player and a darned good pass rusher in his own right. They chose wisely by showing Kiwanuka the money and extending him several year. This made Osi really unhappy and unappreciated, but the Giants assuaged his dissatisfaction by giving him a bump in salary for 2012 without extending him. This was a win-win. Osi could lick his wounds and feel valued again by the organization. He had more money in his pocket this year and still could look forward to FA and a big contract next year. The Giants did not create salary cap probelms for themselves beyond this year, showed the locker room that they are the class organization they thought they were playing for that takes care of its players. They committed long term to the player they want ot keep in Kiwanuka and have a highly motivated player in Osi who will be playing this year for what will probably be his last big contract.

The other roster maneuvering that the Giants did was puzzling and did not work out well at all. Giants went out and signed a bunch of players at positions that, IMO are of questionable need, which left them in a bit of a roster pinch. Therefore, they released Ballard with the expectation that the rest of the league would pass on him and the Giants could reclaim him, stash him away on IR and have him ready for next year's team. The waiver claim sequence works in reverse order of last year's finish, giving priority of claim to the lowest teams first in sequence. The first 30 of the other 31 teams in the NFL passed on Ballard, but the 31st, the Patriots, claimed Ballard and he is on their team now. The motivation for Bellichick doing this is up for question - with the stable of great TEs they have up in new England, it's really questionable why they need a slow, plodding, (though certainly fairly productive one) to their mix. Nor am I going to talk about the apparent unwritten gentleman's agreement among NFL teams not to put in a claim in a situation like this and allow the transaction to go through. What I am going to talk about is - why did the Giants mismanage this situation and allow it to happen. The players that the Giants signed right before this transaction for whom they "could not" give up a roster spot were: Chase Blackburn, Rockey Bernard and  Shaun Rogers. I have some question as to whether they need those DTs, because the Giants were very strong in the middle last year with Canty and Linval Joseph and they have Marvin Austin coming back to join the rotation. It is true that Austin hasn't played in 2 years and that Canty and Joseph are both coming off sugery, so I understand the need to protect the roster by building it up in that area. But neither Bernard nor Rogers were hotly pursued by any other teams, so the Giants surely could have waited to sign them before doing the maneuvering on Ballard. Not only that, but Rogers came into camp with a bad elbow injury, was overweight and did not particpate in any of the offseason practices. I doubt that teams were knocking down the doors of his agents to sign him; it surely could have waited. Bernard had a decent season last year with some good moments (sack in the playoffs), but he too was not a hotly pursued commodity. Blackburn also played well last year for the Giants after he was re-signed, but the Giants seem so stocked with LBs that I'm not sure he's going to make the team at all and I will be frankly surprised if he gets a lot of playing time at the position.

Ballard had a good year for the Giants, but he is not a great player. The loss of Ballard will not kill the Giants offense, but they did like him and had hopes of him developing into a very good all around TE. Still - the Giants were outmaneuvered by the Patriots and lost a decent player.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Eli (and Amani)

I must admit I have been delinquent at keeping the blog going during the off season. No excuses, just a bit lazy I guess. But with training camp right around the corner, it's time to start cooking. Here goes... most recent piece of news comes first.

Unless you have been living under a rock somewhere, you have heard by now that Amani Toomer, former Giants WR and possessor of a Super Bowl ring earned by him largely by virtue of the fact that he played on the same team with # 10, decided to profess his great knowledge of the QB position. He announced on his radio show that Eli was not the best QB in the NFC East, rather it was Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys. I am not going to beat up Amani for being nasty about it like Tiki was, but his opinion is dead wrong. Romo is a better player than most people give him credit for, and his career statistics are better than Eli's in many ways. But there is no dispute that right now, Eli is a better QB and it's not that close. Let me give a little treatise on why and to support my assertion, I am going to refer back to another great ex-Giant, coach Bill Parcells.

The thing that impressed me the most about Parcells was not only that he won two Super Bowls with the Giants, but it was how he did it. He won the championship following the 1986 and 1990 seasons with teams that were completely different in style from each other. Surely there were some common components - all world LBs LT and Carl Banks come to mind, for example, but otherwise the teams could not have been more dissimilar. The 1986 team's defense was characterized by an absolutely dominant front 7. Banks and Carson were killers and LT was the best defensive player in football. The DB-field was very weak and the strategy was all about getting to the QB before he could do damage to the unathletic safeties and the average CBs. By contrast, the 1990 defense had an excellent secondary with Mark Collins at CB and a pair of very good safeties in Guyton and Jackson and played a different style. They still had a great pass rush with LT, but they did not gamble as much, investing more trust in the DB-field. They played conservative, errorless defense, sticking with the cover-2 and waited for the opposing offense to make a mistake.

The offensive style of the two Parcells Super Bowl teams were also as different as night and day. The 1986 had a small, mobile OL with a quick, darting RB in Joe Morris. Phil Simms was the QB and the offense was a down-the-field passing team. The 1990 team had a big powerful OL matched by the power RB OJ Andersen. They threw down field rarely, tried to run the ball down the throat of the defense and set a record for fewest turnovers by an offense over the season.

Completely different teams on both offense and defense, and Parcells won with both. He could match his coaching style to the skills of the roster, the true measure of a good coach. Now look at what Eli has done with the two Super Bowl rings he won. The defense had different players but largely the same style - good DBs, decent LBs and a dominant DL that got after the passer. But Eli's offense was entirely different. In 2007, Giants were a run-first team and Eli made the most of his opportunities, throwing when he had to behind a good OL. In 2011, Giants had statistically the worst running offense in football during the regular season and while they picked it up a little in the playoffs, the offense was carried on Eli's broad shoulders, especially with several stirring 4th quarter performances.

But here's the most striking thing about the two offenses - every one of his passing targets was different on these two teams. In 2007, it was Plaxico and Toomer at WR with Steve Smith and David Tyree in 3 and 4 WR sets. Shockey / Boss were the TEs. There was not great speed among these WRs, they mostly used their size, their hands and their accurate route running to be productive. The 2011 team had completely different targets: Nicks, Cruz, Manningham and a few others that served as the 4th WR. At TE it was Ballard as the main target, which means that the entire receiving corps was different. This second group relied on speed and quickness (except for Ballard of course) rather than size like the 2007 group, showing the great versatility of the QB who can bring out the best in all of them. Eli has become a remarkably accurate passer, with a strong arm and the football IQ to be a great QB. When you win with one style team, you show you're a player. When you win twice with two completely different teams, you show greatness.

In 2008 the Giants came out and had a great regular season, validating their Super Bowl win the year before, quieting the doubters who said the 2007 Giants were a mediocre team that just got hot at the right time. Those 2008 Giants were 11-1 when Plaxico had his nightclub shooting incident, they limped home at 1-3 and lost in the first round.  I am looking for a good regular season this year as well to quiet the critics who are saying the same things about this year's title.

More on recent developments later this week.