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.

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