Monday, December 10, 2012

Saints game review I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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