Friday, November 30, 2012

NFL Standings

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Looking forward to Redskins I

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

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

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

NFC East

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wednesday Miscellany

General Wednesday chatter:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Packers Game Review II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Packers Game Review I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The offense

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

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

What needs fixing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

More Bengals game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Bengals Game review I

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 9, 2012

Steelers Game Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 2, 2012

Looking ahead to the Steelers

First a few interesting notes about Giants injuries:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Cowboys game review II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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