Thursday, October 31, 2013

Special Teams

Giants are having a terrible time on special teams this season. They seem like they are on a record to give up most special teams touchdowns in a season. I have no idea if that's true, but 4 TDs, 3 on punt returns and 1 on a bad snap, in only 8 weeks of play is pretty bad. Jumping off sides on punt coverage when it was 4th and less than 5 to give the other team a 1st down and keep their drive alive was another egregious mistake. They did that twice. Weatherford had a few terrible games punting, though he has been better the last few games. Josh Brown has missed several makeable FGs at points during the game when it seemed like it could make a difference. But I want to concentrate on the coaching behind this horror show.

The NFL is a player's league, but coaching has a huge impact on the results and achievement of the team. You need the talent, but coaching can either prop up or weaken what you might consider the team's natural ability. When it comes to offense or defense, the style of play must match the skills of the players. When the Giants finished next to last in the league in 1980 and had the second pick in the draft, they drafted LT. The team was awful, had no QB, no talent at all on offense and little to speak of on defense except for 3 very good LBs. They correctly assessed that LT was a once in a generation player and drafted him despite his being a LB, the only unit on the team that did not need help. Once they got LT into camp and saw that they had judged him correctly and he was in fact going to be a dominant player, they did not stick with their 4-3 defense. Rather they switched to a 3-4, just to get their best players on the field. That's coaching - examining your roster and arranging the style of play around it. But it is still about the players' talents first.

When it comes to special teams, however, it is not partly about coaching - it is ENTIRELY about coaching. My contention is that every NFL team has a sufficient number of capable athletes to field at least a competent special teams unit. Every so often you get a player like Devin Hester on your team, or Reyna Thompson or David Tyree, if you want to take a nostalgic view into Giants history for a moment,  that elevates the ST play and makes it well above average. But with good coaching, every team should have decent special teams coverage and play. The fact that the punt coverage is so bad is a direct reflection of poor coaching by Quinn, the ST coach. I noticed that on 2 of the 3 punt returns that went for TDs against the Giants, the gunner on the side of the field where the ball was kicked was rookie Damontre Moore. In both those instances, Moore did his best to get down field and actually got there in good time. But he was easily juked out of the play by the returner and overran the ball carrier as the kick returner started to run down field on his TD run. Damontre Moore is a fabulous athlete for a DE. I have high hopes for him to become a good pass rusher of the future for the Giants. But - HE IS STILL A DE. No other teams use DEs for gunners. None. I'm not exaggerating when I say none. Some people might use none as (negative) hyperbole and really mean " very few" when they say none. I am not. I really mean none. Nada. Rien. Zero. Zilch. אפס. NONE! A DE, no matter how athletic and fast has no chance to stay with a little returner who has moves to fake out quick guys his own size, much less a 250-260 lb. player who is not nearly as nimble as he is. It's an inexcusable coaching error. The most important thing any coach does in any sport is fill out the lineup card. And if the coach has the wrong guys in the game at the wrong positions, he has failed. Especially if they do it twice.

One more point: I am willing to wager that this is the first time that Moore has been a gunner on punt coverage in his entire career of playing football at any level - Pop Warner, HS or college. He was the best athlete probably on every team, he was the biggest player on every team, so his coach surely did not want to "waste" him as a punt cover guy. That's what DBs are for. Therefore, in addition to being disadvantaged physically against the smaller, quicker returner, he did not even have game experience to fall back on. You saw the results. Maybe the coach picked him because in straight line sprints he was faster than other players. But still - if I could figure out that he wasn't suited for the job, then the coaches should have been able to figure it out too.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

MidSeason Analysis

It's tough to get excited about a 2-6 team even if it is on a 2 game winning streak. I am going to take a glass half full / half empty approach and present reasons for some optimism as well a dose of a reality check to understand the frailties of this team.

Reality Check - glass half empty

The competition

True, Giants are on a 2 game winning streak. But let's be clear: the Vikings and Eagles are not good football teams. Giants still have not beaten a team with a  competent starting QB. Josh Freeman has a strong arm and is physically gifted, but his accuracy is awful. He was so wild with his throws that he made former Giant QB great Dave Brown look like an all pro. Michael Vick, while also physically gifted, we must admit is an awful QB. He makes some plays that make you marvel at his physical ability, and he steals some games with that talent that he has no business winning.  While he throws a nice deep ball, he is a terrible decision maker, has no touch on the ball for the medium routes and is not a good team leader. On top of that he had a bad hammy and could not use his best quality - speed. So even though the Giants defense played better in these two games, they weren't exactly facing Joe Montana.

Offensive Disappointment

Giants came into the season thinking that they had a boat load of offensive weapons with Wilson and Brown at RB; Randle, Nicks and Cruz at WR. If they could block for the QB, Giants would be a high powered offense and score lots of points. But the harsh reality is that the OL could not block and was much worse than anyone anticipated. On top of that, the best OL-man Snee was hurt as was C Baas. Boothe at the other G seems to have slipped from the mediocre level he was at last year, Beatty had a few bad games and Pugh had some rookie problems. The OL has been worse than Giants needed it to be, but the offensive weapons have been degraded also. Wilson and Brown have been hurt and contributed nothing, except for a bunch of fumbles and missed assignments which cost the team the Cowboys game. More worrisome to me is the WR corps, where Randle's routes seem to be as predictable as a random number generator, leading to 6 of Eli's 15 interceptions. Nicks, who was supposed to be the deep threat, the straw that stirs the drink of the Giants passing attack, has been very mediocre. He just doesn't have the burst he showed in previous years, rarely gets separation deep and has been uncharacteristically dropping balls with his greatest strength, his hands. Every pass he catches requires a perfect, pinpoint throw from Eli and that is a recipe for a high risk offense. Nicks looks more like he did last year when he was injured than he did in 2011 when he was an absolute beast and was my MVP of the playoffs, right after Eli. The deep passing attack that Giants use is particularly vulnerable to bad OL play because the QB has to hold the ball longer.

Defense under par

Defense has been tentative and has been getting beat late in games, especially. They have had very good run defense all year, with the inflow of quality DTs, but the pass rush has been invisible and the LBs have been mediocre. The coverage and tackling in the DB-field has been good, but the safe, completely predictable, keep-everything-in-front-of-you zone that Fewell plays is just too easy for opposing offenses to scheme against.

A glimmer of optimism - glass half full

Personnel upgrades 

Giants have won the last two games not only because the same old players played better and not only because they were playing two crappy teams. They have made a few key personnel changes which have really changed things up and may provide some hope. Specifically: Beason has been a real find at LB, shoring up a mediocre LB unit. He has been particularly good in the middle against the pass and has made plays in the running game also. On offense, everyone wants to look at the addition of Hillis as a benefit and he has been fine, I agree. But the real addition has been Conners at FB. You can't get a running game without blocking at the point of attack and that often is led by the TE and the FB. Using Pascoe at FB after Hynoski got hurt was just not going to power the Giants running game. Pascoe is just not physical and athletic enough. Conners has been great at FB in the running game and is an excellent pass blocker also. With a weak OL, the FB is not going to transform it into a power running team, but it helps. The addition of Will Hill at S has been a real plus. He could become an all pro S some day and is an enormous upgrade over Ryan Mundy who is not fast enough to give the defense any help in pass coverage. In addition to these new players, there have been a few players that have settled into their roles since the beginning of the season and are improving. Specifically, Terrell Thomas looks like he has really regained his form and is running smoothly and tackling well. He had a great game against the Eagles Sunday. Cordle is improving at C. He was shaky at the beginning when he replaced Baas and has been steady recently. Pugh is also getting better every game at RT, not surprising that a rookie would struggle early. Diehl and Boothe seem to be the weak points in the OL and they are tough to hide.

Coaching philosophy changes

I give crap  on this blog to the coordinators all the time and it's time to 'fess up and give them their props when they do something good. On offense, Gilbride is fond of the long passing game and it is a reasonable strategy with a strong armed, capable QB. But when the OL can't block, you can't ask Eli to hold the ball for 4-5 seconds and take 5-7 step drops all the time. Gilbride in the last 2 games has completely changed the offense and has gone to a mostly short, safe passing game. The ball comes out of Eli' hand in 2-3 seconds instead of having to hold it for 4-5 seconds. The offense was average against the Vikings, but was better against the Eagles. When you have that short passing game, it's tougher to get in the end zone, but there were no turnovers by the offense and 5 scoring drives. If 2 of the 5 had been TDs, the game would have looked a lot better. In fact, some of the drives were stopped by procedure penalties and delay of game, rather than weakness in the offense.

On defense, the players and the DC made a lot out of the new approach since half time of the Bears game. The players approached Fewell and told him that the reads and the keys on defense were too complicated, slowing the players down and not allowing them to play fast and loose. To his credit, he simplified the defense and the Giants have not given up an offensive TD since half time of that bears game, a span of 10 quarters.

The hope - the reality

The hope has to be that the interior of the OL plays a little better, that Nicks finds his burst after he takes a bye week off, that the defense continues to improve and the Giants get back in the race. Giants are 2-6 but only 2 games behind Dallas. If they had not turned the ball over 5 times opening night and had won that game, they would actually be tied for first with them now at 3-5.

The worry has to be that the tough part of the schedule is in front of the Giants with games against Green Bay, Seattle and Dallas. For them to win a few games and have a decent close to the season is a reasonable expectations. To hope / expect them to actually win the division is probably too much to ask for.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Bears game review

If it's possible for one game in a winless 6 game opening of the season to be more depressing than the others, this Bears game last Thursday night might be it for me. Coming into the game, in fact coming into the season, it appeared that on offense Giants had an abundance of skill position players, a great QB and the big question was the OL. Could they block for them, open some holes in the running game and provide some protection for Eli? In those first 5 games the answer was no. The OL was horrid, providing no running game and no protection for Eli, leaving the Giants with no way to move the ball on offense. When thing got dicey, Eli tried to win the games all by himself, took some chances he shouldn't have taken and ended up throwing the ball to the guys with the other colored jerseys way too often. That was the first 5 games of the season. But going into the 6th game, hope springs eternal, and there was just a tiny ray of hope. It was true that the two RBs set to carry the ball this season were both out with injuries and the Giants had a retread Jacobs at RB. But the Bears DL was weakened by injury and the Giants had a competent OL-man Diehl starting his second game after coming back from injury. Not that Diehl is an all pro, but he has shown flashes of slightly-above-average in his career and maybe he would get his sea legs back and play well. So the hope was that the OL would be representative of a decent OL, that Eli would finally have time to throw and that the Giants would play well. In fact it worked out better than that - OL also opened some holes for the running game and Jacobs had 100+ yards, mostly behind the right side of the OL with Pugh who played very well and Diehl who also played well. The Giants definitely played better than they had in their previous 5 games, but the depressing thing for me is that they still lost to a very-mediocre Bears team.

Defense was cut up badly in the first half, giving up 17 points to the Bears (7 coming courtesy of a pick 6 by Eli) and looked like they could not stop the Bears at all. Sometimes an offense scores points but they look like they are working hard and struggling to do it - the Bears offense in first half looked like it just walked through the Giants, with nearly every play working successfully. Giants defense did have one good stop on 4th down after the first Eli INT, but after that it was just too easy for the Bears. In the 2nd half, the Giants defense was a little better, giving up only 3 points and forcing several punts. It appeared to me that it was more the Bears misfiring on some 3rd downs than great pressure or play by the Giants defense, but at least the defense got in position to get the stops. When the Giants got the ball back with about 4 minutes left and Eli started moving them down the field, it sure looked like they were in position to win again on a 4th quarter TD drive. But Eli's pass was about 6 inches too high and the TE Myers did not turn his body around early enough in his route to see the ball coming, tipped it up in the air and yet another INT ended the disappointing evening.

Of Eli's 15 INTs this year, 5 of them have come when he has targeted Randle and this is disproportional to the total number of targets he gets compared to other potential pass receivers in the offense. Randle has a lot of talent, but he is often not on the same page with Eli. All the INTs go in Eli's statistics column, but many of them are the result of this overly complex offense by Gilbride and the WR/QB not making the same read of the defense and subsequent adjustment to their routes. Actually, calling it complex is not the right word - it's not complex so much as it is filled with instantaneous decisions and reads by the entire offense. They've gotten away with it for years because Eli is such a cerebral QB. But it is very high risk as we saw Thursday night.  Randle reads one thing, Eli reads another. 6 points for the other guys. Tipped ball because the receiver is not in perfect position, perhaps because he is hesitating after the snap trying to read the defense - INT. That was not only Myers on Thursday, but that was also the opening night INT on the tip off of Da'Rel Scott's hands and probably a few others. There have been some times when Nicks cut off his route and Eli threw it to where he should have been. Eli has to take some of the blame, but he has not played as badly as it appears from his statistics.

The other thing that makes this Gilbride offense obsolete and a liability is that in the new world of the NFL, with the current collective bargaining agreement, it is much more important to bring in young players and inexpensive FAs and get them productive right away. The current collective bargaining agreement has two important financial elements: (1) a very slow rise in the salary cap from the 2010 number (deal became effective in 2011); (2) a rookie salary cap. If the salary cap is rising slowly, it made it very difficult for a team to keep the higher priced veterans and makes it difficult to bring in new high priced FAs. To manage this cap, teams must draft well and get their draft class productive right away, rather than waiting a season and a half to get them on the field. Second, if they need to fill a roster slot with a FA, rather than giving a big contract to an expensive FA, they will try to find a middle of the road FA who is looking to prove himself and give him a cheap 1 year contract. Giants did this with Kawika Mitchell in 2007, with Martellus Bennett last year and with several others along the way. All this means much more turnover in the roster and the need to get new players accustomed to the offense so they can be productive immediately. That just does not happen with Gilbride's offense and it's time to go.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Gameday.... time for "If"

There's no denying that the Giants are in trouble. Having said that, my opinion remains that there are still some good players and even some great players on this team. They are being done in by the units that are weak and the serious flaws that exist elsewhere on the roster. Giants used to be driven by their OL and DL and now those units are weak. But..... If the Giants OL plays a little better (I would be trying Brewer at LG and maybe move Boothe to C); If Brandon Jacobs meets up with Ponce de Leon and finds the fountain of youth; If Da'Rel Scott makes a few plays with his speed; If Eli has just a few more seconds to scan the field in the pocket; If JPP and Kiwi wake up from their season long slumber; If Beason gets over his injuries and regains his speed; then I still think there are enough skill position players on the Giants to field a representative team.

OK, I get that those are a lot of if's. Most of them individually are unlikely to happen (especially that fountain of youth thing)  and certainly ALL of them happening together is a near impossibility, but hey this is Game Day. Time for dreaming. A few years ago I was at Monday (maybe Sunday?) night game between Bears and Giants and the pass rush really got after Cutler. Giants sacked him 5 or 6 times in the first half, knocked him out of the game with a concussion by half time and generally made the Bears OL look stupid. Apparently Bears have improved their OL and they have a new coach that has injected some life into the team, particularly the offense. (There's an idea for Giants management - a new coaching philosophy with some life.)  But the Bears are not a great team and even though they are favored by 8 1/2 this is not an unwinnable game for the Giants. Bears defense is not bad and they do have the formidable freak-athlete Julius Peppers at DE. But he has only 1 sack this year and the Bears defense is not overwhelming. Maybe Giants get going tonight.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The decline of the roster

We can all rail about the coaching with some justification. We can complain about sloppy play by the QB. We can talk about bad turnovers and idiotic penalties. But that doesn't get to the heart of the matter, which is the steady decline in the talent on this roster. I was watching the Jets the other night against Atlanta and saw more good athletes on their roster than on the Giants. Just as one example, look at the backup TE Cumberland.... Winslow is their starter and when he went out, Cumberland came in - he is huge, fit, strong and fast. Giants don't seem to have players like that on the roster, much less as substitutes behind the starters. Let's not confuse cause and effect. The turnovers, penalties, sloppy play are not the cause of Giants losing. Rather, they are the effect of not having enough good players and having those players a step slow, less powerful and athletic makes it impossible for them to succeed in the sport where athleticism determines outcome more than in any other sport. 
Some example of the declining roster:
1. At RB, Jacobs is the starting RB right now, and if he wasn't playing for the Giants, he would not be in football. Pascoe is the FB and he is just awful. He's in there because of the Hynoski injury, but how do you go into the season with 1 FB on your roster, and that one being someone who is coming off a major knee injury and surgery and you just expect him to be OK. BTW, everyone loves Hynoski because he's tough and has a great name, but he doesn't have a great track record yet and is also a big step down from previous FB, Madison Hedgecock who was an excellent player until he got injured. Giants are so desperate that they signed Conner, ex-Jet FB, who also was out of football until Giants signed him.
2. At TE, the last several Giants have had - Kevin Boss, Jake Ballard, Martellus Bennett and even Beckum are way better than Myers. First time I saw Myers on the practice field this summer, I said he's not very good. A "tweener" - not a big guy /  good blocker, but also not very fast and.... drops some balls he should catch.
3. At OL, Baas is a clear step down from his predecessor O'Hara and Cordle his backup is probably not an NFL player. Boothe, the starting LG was not a starter two years ago; he's a good backup but a below average starter who is probably on the team because of his versatility. Being versatile is coach-speak for saying he can be a below average player at all 3 of the interior OL positions he can play. Diehl was a decent player at his peak and now after injuries and age have slowed him down, he is also worse than he ever was; playing RG in place of Snee is another major downgrade (at least compared to when Snee was healthy). Beatty and Pugh are OK at the T positions, though neither is sparkling right now.
4. LB position: Herzlich is a great story but he does not look like he is more than a ST player in the NFL. He made an occasional play last week against the Eagles, but consider the following: he couldn't beat out Blackburn last year who got cut; he couldn't beat out Connor this year who had been cut previous year from the Cowboys. And the Giants have now traded for Beason, who became available because he was beaten out of his job by Blackburn and Beason is slated to take Herzlich MLB job as soon as he gets healthy and learns Fewell's complex defense. He may start Thursday night against Chicago. I have to admit that Paysinger is coming around and I like J Williams athleticism. But the MLB position when compared to Antonio Pierce is a huge step down in talent also.
5. DL: DT is the one position Giants have upgraded. They are playing well and stuffing the run well. But the DEs and DL get no pass rush. Tuck is a shell of his former self. JPP and Kiwanuka look lost and are not playing as well as Osi did last year.
6. CBs are better than last year. S position is hurt - Mundy was brought in to be backup S and that's what he is.... a backup. Both Mundy and his intended replacement Stevie Brown are worse football players than their predecessor, Kenny Phillips. I am not saying that Giants should have kept KP, because he has been slowed by age/injury also. My point is that here too, the roster has declined.
7. Training staff: Why do Giants get so many injuries every year? Injuries are supposed to be randomly distributed so that at least sometimes your team gets a relatively injury-free year. Never seems to happen with the Giants. I read a few articles recently that reported that the 49ers and Saints in particular have adopted new, advanced training techniques to get their players stronger and faster and less prone to injuries. Seems to be working for them.
In summary, the whole organization has to take the blame for this team. GM-coaches-players-even owners.   Giants need a makeover, and the window for Eli remaining a Super Bowl caliber QB is closing, so this has to be done fast. Alas, there are lots of holes to fill. My opinion is that there will be a radical change this offseason, helped by the many players that are in the last year of their deal.
You all know I'm a big Eli fan and I will agree he's not playing well this year. But he still has the arm, the brains, the heart and the genes to be a champion.

The trend

The trending continues as all of these losses continue piling up, but the games seem to have some similar trends and feel to them. It doesn't seem to matter whether the Giants are playing established, undefeated teams like the Broncos or Chiefs, whether they are playing young, athletic wanna-be teams like the Panthers or whether they are playing division rivals who are not very good but have some good offensive talent somewhere on their roster. The Giants show some ability early on, play tough at the outset, hang in with the other team for a while, but then get overwhelmed in the 2nd half and especially the 4th quarter. Their defense plays tough for a while but then crumbles. Their offense starts poorly, shows no running game and little ability to present a clean pocket for the QB and eventually are done in by turnovers.

The injuries continue to pile up and they expose several important things on the roster constructed by the front office: (1) there is a surprising lack of depth behind the starters on the OL, at RB and at FB. There is also little talent at the TE position; (2) the roster is old and aging at key positions and when that happens injuries are more likely to occur; (3) even the DL and the pass rush, core of the Giants defensive strategy for so many years is filled with aging players for whom their best playing days are behind them.

From the broad perspective, without going into too much individual analysis, the Giants are getting beaten badly at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and that means that the skill position players on offense and defense are limited in their ability to succeed. On offense, before you analyze the statistics too closely, you can just take a 30,000 foot perspective of the game and imagine or recall visually what the game looked like last Sunday against the Iggles. Vick and later Foles were often able to drop back and sit in a nice clean pocket, step forward into their throws when they had to. Eli on the other hand was too often getting pressured, often got off throws with guys rushing right at him up the middle and could not cleanly step into the throws. When he was able to do that, he was able to hit his receivers and make some plays. But when there is no running game, the QB has to throw all the time to move the team, when the OL gives up all this pressure, bad plays are going to happen. This Sunday against the Eagles, the stat sheet says that Eli had 3 INTs. The first happened when Eli's helmet was hit as he was throwing and the ball bounced off his own C's helmet. The fact that there should have been a penalty called is immaterial to the point that the OL allowed several DL-men to get to Eli, there was no clean pocket to throw from and they were close enough to him to reach out and hit his helmet. The second INT was a ball that was in Cruz's hands and ripped out by the defender. You could argue that the ball was thrown slightly behind Cruz which gave the DB a chance to make the play on the ball. But the truth is that Eli hit his man in the hands and try to recall the play - here too Eli was forced out of the pocket, was throwing on the run and threw a great ball under the circumstances. On the third INT, Nicks inexplicably pulled up his route, Eli threw it where he should have been and the ball was picked. I don't want this to sound like a blind Eli defense from an unobjective groupie who is trying to defend the QB at the expense of all else, but the facts are that the team around Eli, from the OL to the RBs to the FB and the TE are the worst team he's ever had around him. I would argue that of those 8 players that I just referred to: 5 OL-men Beatty, Boothe, Cordle, Diehl, Pugh, RB Jacobs, FB Pascoe and TE Myers, none of them would start on most of the other NFL teams. Furthermore, 5 of the 8 (the 3 interior OL-men, the FB and the TE) would not make the rosters of the better NFL teams. Yet, the QB is blasted for throwing too many picks and that's why the teams is losing.

Even going beyond those core infrastructure positions and looking at the skill position players, Cruz is playing great this year, but Nicks and Randle have both dropped way too many passes that could have been big plays and maybe changed the complexion of some of the games.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Scary prospects

Here are the scary things for Giants fans:

1. We're thrilled that David Diehl is making it back from injury and will solidify the OL. The scary part of that proposition is that Diehl has never been a great player, never been an all pro, whose best quality is certainly his versatility, not his overpowering strength as a blocker. Diehl was shuffled around to all the positions on the OL except for C. He has been a trooper, has done what's been asked of him, took a pay cut twice on the Giants. His contract called for him to be payed more if he was the starting LT and when he was moved away from that position, his salary was essentially cut. Second time was this off season, when the Giants told him he needed to take a pay cut or, presumably, he would be cut from the team. So someone who was on the bubble for making the team is now going to save the season? Yikes.

Note: My brother always likes to point out that without David Diehl, David Tyree and the helmet catch would not be part of our sports lore. It was Diehl who was unable to block Adalius Thomas (right this way Mr. Thomas, I believe you have a meeting scheduled in the backfield with our QB Mr. Manning) and set the great escape up for Eli. 

2. Brandon Jacobs has now been elevated to the number 2 RB on the team. This is a player that also never made a pro bowl, was cut two years ago because he was slowing down, signed by the 49ers, was injured and did not play the entire 2012 season, did not have a job in training camp and was only signed by the Giants when Andre Brown got hurt and David Wilson decided to start fumbling the ball. Now that Da'Rel Scott has been cut, Jacobs plays a more prominent role in the offense. I remember the Giants having OJ Anderson as a backup RB in the 1986 season - in fact he scored a TD in garbage time in the 1986 Super Bowl. He hung around a few more season, was also the back up in 1990 and because of some injuries, ended upplaying a much more prominent role than he or anyone else anticipated. But he was a pro, gained more than 1,000 yards that season and was the Super Bowl MVP in 1990. Jacobs is not in that class and the Giants have no backups like that on this team. Double Yikes!

3. Giants LBs have played better than anyone has given them credit for, though I think I am the only one that holds that opinion. Herzlich had a decent game last week and Paysinger is developing. Now, however the Giants seem to have some injuries at that position, though it's hard to tell how serious. The DBs have also been good. Prince A has lived up to his 1st round draft status and the off season goal to become an elite CB. Thomas, Ross and Webster have all played pretty well but now they all seem hurt to some degree or another. McBride had to play last week and actually did pretty well. The DL has been playing well against the run but now have injuries to JPP, Linval Jospeh and Cullen Jenkins. Against the Eagles, who run a football version of the Mike D'Antoni offense, you need depth on the DL to substitute, get a rotation going and keep the defense relatively fresh. It's hard to do that with all the injuries. Hankins and Damontre Moore will play some this week. It's scary when the best part of the team, the part that has been at least decent, is now hammered by injuries.

4. As bad as the defense was last year, finishing 31st statistically in the league last year, the weak performance was partially masked by the turnover differential in the team's favor. Giants had one of the better turnover differentials last year. This year, the numbers have reversed and the Giants are worst in the league in turnover differential through 4 games at -9, perhaps making things look worse than they really are.

5. The OC and DC have their set way of playing and they're very reluctant to change things up based on circumstances or personnel. This is a weakness for them. a good coach builds a plan around his players skills. But Giants still run the same offense with this OL and with David Wilson as RB as they did with a strong OL and Bradshaw/Jacobs/Ward as the power RBs. They still throw every ball down the field and have not developed a short passing game or effective screen passes despite the crying, obvious need to do so.


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Injuries and a look forward

Giants have played poorly this year, no doubt about that. But they also have been very unlucky, getting almost no breaks on fumbles, weird interceptions, some bad refs calls and now the injuries are piling up at particular areas of weakness on the team. The OL has been brutal this year, creating no holes for the running game and leaving Eli in a vulnerable position, getting sacked more than anyone in the league and getting smacked around and hit when he is not getting sacked. To make matters worse, Snee has a damaged hip and will probably be out for the year and Baas, who never lived up to his $5M per year FA contract is also hurt and not making much progress. Diehl is coming back this week and will start at RG in place of Jim Brewer, who was starting in place of Snee. Diehl is not a great G but at least he knows the assignments and the hope is that he will improve the OL play a bit. Eagles have a really poor defense, but they do blitz a lot, so it will be interesting to see how the Giants offense does this weekend. Gilbride has said he does not want to chuck the entire offense and retool everything in consideration of the poor OL play and offensive production. I can accept that; you can't totally change the offense in the middle of the season. But you can put in some plays that benefits the current players and optimizes their talents. Particularly, Da'Rel Scott has been cut which means that Jacobs may get a bit more playing time; but Wilson should get many more touches. Wilson has been a little shaky picking up the blitzers on 3rd down. But if Gilbride swings him out in the flat on passing downs as a safety valve and lets Eli check down to him occasionally, he could catch the Eagles in some blitzes and make some big plays. Don't use Wilson like he's Brandon Jacobs.

I would like to see Adrien Robinson come back soon from his foot injury and see if he is a player. Pascoe is just not athletic enough and Myers is a big disappointment. Larry Donnell should play: he is more athletic and bigger than both Pascoe and Myers.

All of a sudden there are some injuries piling up in the DB-field. Hosley, Ross and Webster are all knicked up. Let's see if someone can run with DeSean Jackson this week. Giants need a bog game from Prince A to handle the deep balls. It will be interesting to see Chip Kelly's offense - looks like he copied Mike D'Antoni's plan for basketball by running a play every 15 seconds or so.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Roster moves

It sure looks like Snee's career may be in jeopardy. He is coming off a down year last year and had surgery for a torn labrum in his left hip in the offseason which he was trying to recover from. But now he tore the labrum in his right (good) hip and will probably have surgery to repair it - which means he will be gone for the year. The Giants apparently restructured his contract to get them some salary cap room to sign a replacement this year. Restructuring contracts doesn't work unless there is another year (at least) behind it, and that is case with Snee - he has one year left after this one, becoming a free agent after 2014 season. Snee's contract was guaranteed for the year, as with all veterans that are on the roster in week one. So he's not going to restructure the contract and move guaranteed money out of this year that would become "unguaranteed" next year. That means that if the Giants were to cut Snee before the 2014 season, they would still have some guaranteed money to pay him and a salary cap hit of about $3M + whatever they guaranteed him in this restructure. Otherwise, his salary next year would be about 7.25M, so his job is still in jeopardy.

Giants, desperate for OL help signed a C, Dallas Reynolds, who played for the Eagles last year and was out of football to date in 2013. He played a bit for an awful Eagles OL last year, but it sure seems like Baas is going to be out for a while if they are signing this C. Cordle started at C last week and Boothe is the only other C on the team. With Snee ailing, Giants don't have enough depth at G to slide someone in there and move Boothe to C in case Cordle were to get hurt; you need a backup for every position. That's why it seems like Baas is out. To make room for Reynolds, Giants cut Da'Rel Scott. He did not look like an NFL caliber player.

I can understand the OL affecting the running game badly. It also affects the passing game of course, but there are some steps you can take to improve it. Gilbride has to put in some 3 step drops and quick routes to get things moving, protect the QB and give the OL a chance. The Giants offense is filled with 5 and 7 step drops and has Eli looking down the field all the time. The lack of a good TE really hurts (Myers seems to be a huge downgrade from Bennett last year) with those short routes and Eli has been under pressure. It is difficult to see on television, but it looks like opposing defenses are playing the Giants WRs very tight, very physical, daring them to go long. That forces Eli to hold the ball and the OL collapses because it can't hold them out long enough. When the OL does hold up and Eli gets off a deep ball, the WRs (especially Nicks last week and Randle also) have not been making plays on the ball. Long passes by their nature have a lower completion percentage, of course, but the WRs have missed a few deep balls that Eli has put right in their hands. I never thought I'd say this, but I really hope Diehl comes back soon.

Giants need help at S also and Will Hill is due back this week from his 4 game suspension - so there is another roster move coming before he can be activated. If Hosley is hurt, maybe he goes on IR; he has not been getting much playing time anyway. I don't know the extent and the long term health of Webster's or Ross's injuries are. Speaking of players that are marginal - Bear Pascoe should be a candidate for being cut. Larry Donnell is more athletic and if Adrien Robinson comes back from his foot injury, Pascoe could go. Pascoe can play some FB, but the problem is he doesn't play it well. Easiest cut would be Marcus Harris, a WR who never gets on the field on offense, only plays ST and that ST spot could be taken by Hill.

Downward trends for the Giants

Against the Chiefs, the defense was not bad, regardless of what the statistics may have said. It's obvious to everyone that it's the offense and the OL that is killing the Giants. It sure looks like the Patriots way to build a team is the way to go. Don't overspend on skill position players, because you can always find good speedy players at those positions to play and be productive, especially if the QB has 5 seconds and a clean pocket to find someone. Spend your salary cap dollars on the QB and the OL and the rest of the offense will take care of itself. Giants did not do that and the OL has been in decline for several years. Speaking of offense - I know Andre Brown is out, but Da'Rel Scott is just not an NFL caliber player. (Editor's update: Scott was cut after this post was written) The cracks are showing in the foundation of this team. Having said that the defense was not bad, I must admit that the DL is not playing to their reputation. They are stopping the running game fairly well, but the pass rush is invisible.

The downward trends that I see are the similarities in the games that they have played so far. Giants offense is unproductive as the game moves along and in every game, the opposing offense figures out the Giants defense, gets better in the 2nd half and blows out the team late. I think the entire league has figured out how to play against Giants defense as well as its offense and it's time for a new look. The special teams play has been a problem, in each of last two games: giving up a punt return for a TD; missing a makeable FG that would have kept the Giants close; and making two dumb, inexcusable 5 yard penalties that gave away 1st downs when the defense actually got a stop and had the opposing offense in 4th and less than 5. I've always said that special teams play is 80% or 90% coaching. Occasionally you get a great ST player on the team that elevates the unit's play, but generally there are enough good athletes on every NFL team to have competent ST play if they are well coached. If they're not well coached, they give up punt returns for TDs on consecutive weeks like the Giants just did. Worse still, while ST is 90% coaching, when the team lines up improperly (against Chiefs) getting a penalty that keeps the drive going or when they get an offside trying to block a punt on 3rd and 5 (prior game against the Panthers), I assert that it's not 90% coaching - it's 100% coaching. It is not an excuse for the coaches to say that the players didn't do what they were coached to do. That can work as an excuse sometimes, but when the number of missed assignments, miscommunications and dumb plays continues to grow each week on offense, defense and special teams, you have to say that the coaches are not getting through to the players and are not coaching them well. Speaking of ST coaching - did you notice that Damontre Moore was the gunner on the fateful punt return against the Chiefs. I mean, WTF??!!?? What is a DE doing as a gunner? Those guys are supposed to be DBs or WRs, on rare occasion LBs, but never DEs. I know Moore is a sick athlete, but he is still not as nimble at 250-260 as a punt returner who is less than 200. Another gruesome coaching blunder.

I am not laying this totally on the coaches, I am also laying blame to the front office. This team is just worse personnel wise than the group last year, especially on offense. The OL was a problem last year and while they drafted Pugh who looks like a good player, Snee looks done, Baas looks average and can't stay on the field, and Boothe never was more than a good backup and a very mediocre starter. Reese brought in tons of DT talent to compete for starting time and the results have been decent - Giants seem to be doing a good job stopping the run. While everyone has been beating up the LBs, I think they have been decent. Paysinger has played well and Herzlich played his best game of the year on Sunday, despite getting flattened a few times in the second half. Amukamara has been great and the rest of the DBs have been decent also. But the entire league knows how to play against the Giants defense. Fewell plays a lot of 2-deep zone, with DBs keeping the WRs in front of them and giving a little cushion so as not to get beat deep. So to counter (what used to be) a good pass rush, Giants oppnents throw quick short routes and take an occasional shot down the field. In fact, the entire league does this as a staple part of their offenses. Except for Gilbride. He believes in taking lots of shots down the field - but that requires confident WRs who can beat their man regularly and an above average OL that can give the QB time to hold the ball in the pocket. Giants have neither. The WRs are not able to run quick developing plays because the run-and-shoot concepts that Gilbride puts into the offense requires patience and intelligence to read the defenses which are becoming increasingly complex. The OL this year is well below average, so it is a perfect storm for making a great QB look bad.

Enough for today...... more about Giants weaknesses as the week proceeds.