Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Week 1 v Cowboys

This was probably the most perfect week one win you could hope for. It's not that it was a thoroughly dominating win - it wasn't. It wasn't even a solid convincing victory, where your team can coast the last few minutes and be comfortable as the clock ticks down for victory. In fact, a play or two, a catch where the Cowboys could have advanced the ball 10 yards further or had 30 seconds more left on the clock and they easily could have won the game. Not only that, but when you play a game against a rookie QB making his first NFL start, you should beat him easily. Why then do I say that this was a perfect game one victory? First of all when you bring a new team together and they win big in their first game, there's a risk that they may get overconfident and think that it may come too easy. In fact if they even win comfortably, they may subconsciously feel that they can win just by showing up. A close win against a team they should have beaten perhaps a little more easily is perfect for the team psyche. They can be confident in the win, but realize there are still things to fix.

Much more important than the psyche factor however is the answers to the questions we had coming into the season. There were a few major questions coming into this first game and in fact coming into the season. First - would the OL improve over its pitiful preseason showing and its mediocre performance last year. As a corollary issue, would the TEs emerge from a season long malaise of blocking ineffectiveness. Second - would the S play improve with the two young bucks back there - a 2nd year player in Collins and a rookie in Darian Thompson. Third, would the new defensive FA additions along the DL and in the DB-field show themselves as worth the investment. More generally, how would the rookie class, particularly Shepperd and 1st rounder Eli Apple play. Fourth, would injury returnees Victor Cruz and JPP demonstrate that they might regain their form and be productive players once again. And finally and perhaps most important, how would coach McAdoo handle things in his first stint as HC at any level. 

Remarkably, every one of these questions was answered in the positive. The OL was far from dominating but was very effective in setting up the run and providing decent protection for the passing game. Even the TEs got into the action and did a decent job blocking. Tye had a real good, key block on one insie run by Jennngs and Donnell also did a decent job blocking, despite one late game play where he was totally dominated by the man he was supposed to block. This play almost cost NYG the game, but more on that later. In summary the blocking was OK.

The S play was just fabulous. Collins made plays in the running game last year but needed help in the passing game. THis year he seems sleeker and faster and has emerged as an excellent pass defender also. Berhe, who started the game at S and Thompson who came in and played the remainder of the game after the first 2 or 3 defensive series, was just great. He made several stops right at the line of scrimmage for no gain and was always in position to give help on deep passes. He looks like an excellent player. 

Third, Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison and Janoris Jenkins were superb. Jenkins brought his A game and did a great job on Dez Bryant. Vernon and Harrison were excellent at the line of scrimmage in both the passing game and the running game. Shepperd looks like a keeper and a rising star. Eli Apple got off to a slow start, but contributed to shutting down Cowboys offense in 2nd half. 

Victor Cruz made several key plays, one demonstrating that his athleticism had returned making a catch where he had to contort his body and land awkwardly on one foot bringing in a pass for a 20 yard gain setting up Shepperd's TD. Another key play was the winning TD where he demonstrated his experience and instincts by finding the open spot in the end zone. JPP was ll over the backfield in the 2nd half, once almost getting a strip sack of Prescott that would have ended the game and generally creating lots of pressure.

McAdoo made several very wise, considered coaching decisions that shows that even though he is still calling the offensive plays, he is able to manage the clock and make the strategic game management decisions. More on some of his good coaching in future posts. 

This was a perfect win --- we answered all the  questions facing the team coming into the season. NYG won but not by too much that they will get overconfident. And.... they beat Dallas!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Roster rundown

The roster as issued following cut down day on Saturday has some real interesting underlying principles and some might say some peculiar characteristics. First, while it's really unfortunate that Will Johnson got put on IR and the Giants do not have a legitimate complete TE on the roster --- Tye can catch and run after the catch but can't block at all; Donnell can catch, catch in traffic but can't run after the catch or block much; and Adams, the rookie can block but can't catch. I think long term, Adams will come along and may become the starter at TE, whether that happens this year or next year is entirely predicated on how much progress he makes. But, regardless of how the team got here, if it's 2nd and 5 and Giants want to run a power two-TE formation without completely giving away that it's a run by putting an extra OL-man out there, they really don't have a good option. This may be one reason why I think that one of the things to go by the boards from the Coughlin era is the 50-50 run-pass balance that TC always preached. I think we will be passing more than running this year.

The roster seems unbalanced - how does the team go into the season with 8 LBs and only 8 OL-men and the aforementioned 3 TEs/FBs. Typically on game day, the team may dress only 8 OL-men, but there are generally 9 or sometimes even 10 on the final 53 roster. You definitely need more TE/FBs and OL-men. I will not be surprised if one of these LBs get cut when/if a decent OL-man or TE becomes available. (NOTE: while writing this post, I just noticed that Giants cut Brinkley and signed Josh Johnson as QB. This is not done - Giants will cut one of these backup QBs and strengthen the roster elsewhere.) 

The other interesting thing about the roster is that there are no "made-men" (mafia reference) on the roster anymore. It used to be that if you were a recent draft choice or were a favorite of the organization, e.g. BC or ND alum, you had special status and would stay on the team at least a couple of years. Not this year. Andre Williams, Geremy Davis and Cooper Taylor all fit this category and were all cut. Andre Williams had an opportunity to win a job and just didn't show enough improvement. They must really not have liked what he showed, because he got beaten out both by Darkwa and Rainey. I speculated in my last post that Darkwa would beat out Williams if the Giants carried 4 RBs; and I flat out assumed that Rainey would also be gone. The fact that they are carrying five RBs and STILL could not find a place for Williams shows how much he has fallen.

At WR, Geremy Davis didn't lose the job like Williams did as much as Lewis and King just took it away. They both played really well, showed talent and just simply beat him out for a job. Frankly, King right now looks like he might be in better shape and more productive than Cruz. Of course Cruz has the history and pedigree, so Giants will get him on the field, but don't be surprised if King gets into the mix, especially if Giants go to 4 WR sets.

McAdoo said that he wants to put the "best 53" on the roster. I think he was true to that philosophy and he took the best 53 even if it resulted in some imbalance in certain units on the roster. 

Giants just HAVE to find a competent OL-man to add to this group. Now that they have cut one LB, perhaps the loser in the backup QB competition is the one to go. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Final preseason game: roster spots - offense

The offensive performance was less than inspiring last night. We have to hope the defense will carry the team until the new coach can fix the OL problems. Because if the OL gets fixed, there are plenty of weapons on this team to be productive. I have to say that I just don't love Nassib. He has not thrown the ball accurately this preseason and he missed a bunch of deep throws last night. He also missed some reads - King was wide open in the middle of the field on one scramble and he didn't see him.

At RB, it's a very close call as to who makes the roster. The RBs did a little better last night, but nobody really shined. Jennings, Vereen and Perkins are surely on the team. Rainey, Williams and Darkwa are fighting for the remaining spots and it is unclear whether the Giants will carry 4 or 5 RBs. The Giants OL and run blocking on the outside behind poor blocking TEs is questionable, so Giants might do a lot of their running up the middle, between the tackles, just as they did last year. If that's the case, Rainey's speed might be redundant and his skill set is similar to Vereen's and Perkins. If they keep only 4 RBs, and it comes down to Darkwa and Williams, I just have a feeling that they will keep Darkwa who is a little more versatile than Williams. However, it should be stated that Williams is ahead on the unofficial depth chart on the Giants website.

The decision on how many RBs they keep could well depend on how many WRs the Giants keep. Typically, they would keep 6, but dress only 5 on game day. The first 4 WRs, OBJ, Cruz, Sheppard and Harris are set. After that, it comes down to keeping 2 players from among Geremy Davis, Tavares King and Roger Lewis. You might think that Davis has an edge since he was a draft choice and Giants don't like to waste their picks.  However, King clearly is the most NFL ready of the three right now, while Lewis might have the biggest upside of the three down the road. King has been kicking around the league for a few years on a few different teams, which is probably what makes him more ready; but it also might give you the feeling that what you see from him now is all you're ever going to get out of him. Lewis, an undrafted FA and Davis who hardly played last year carry the hope of promise and optimism, which might be in their favor. If it was me - I would keep King and Lewis and cut Davis. Other WRs, Powe and Dable might make the practice squad.

On the OL, Jones, the CFL import did not look very good at C last night. He's pretty athletic, but he's just not big enough. Flowers was uneven in his performance as was Bobby Hart. Hart looked good at times and was playing LT in the 2nd half, but I saw him get beaten badly on a pass rush. The other backups - Cleary and Gettis look pretty average at best.

At TE, this is now a position I am worried about. Tye and Donnell were both a little better blocking last night and Donnell did make one really good catch. But Jerrel Adams looked totally lost in the passing game. When he knows exactly what to do, he does fine. But when he has to feel his way, read the soft spots in the zone or improvise a little bit, he seems uncomfortable. His blocking was fine, but not outstanding or particularly noticeable. If Giants keep 4 TEs and we include Will Johnson in that group, the Giants may actually look over the cuts from other training camps and sign one of them to replace Will Tye.

When the coaches cut a guy and say it is a numbers game, I know what they mean, the analysis above informs as to why every decision is related to other decisions within other units. If you really like this WR group and want to keep an extra one because you want to develop him for the future, it means that you have to keep one fewer player at another position group. It can have  a cascading affect on other units on the entire roster.

Final preseason game: roster spots - defense

Thoughts from the final preseason game and roster spots on defense:

Giants defense has a chance to be really good this year. They went without many starters on defense last night, in particular, the entire DL did not play and they still did well against Patriots first team offense. The CBs look capable and deep. Trevin Wade, our 4th or 5th CB made several plays last night including INT of Brady. Landon Collins looks like a totally different player than last year - still aggressive, attacking in the box, but with enough speed and coverage skills to make plays in the passing game as well. His partner at S last night was Berhe who also looked very good - fast, hard hitter and always in good position. Eli Apple looks absolutely great and has looked good the entire preseason.

There is a numbers game to be played in the DB-field and it is pretty confusing. If Giants want to carry 5 CBs and 4 at the S position, then it will be: Rodgers-Cromartie, Jenkins, Apple, Hall and Wade at CB. Wade played great last night and merits a spot on the roster. At S it would be: Collins, Thomson, Berhe and probably Mykelle Thompson. Currie and Adams, two other contenders at S just don't look athletic enough to me to play in the NFL. Deayon at CB is a feel-good story, tries hard but is just way too small to be effective at CB in the league. The Giants may like McFadden and want to keep him on the roster and may talk themselves into doing this and cutting Mykelle Thompson at S because Hall can play S. I would keep Thompson because I don't think Hall has looked good this camp - he looks slow and does not show a lot of fire.

At LB, for the first time in a while, Giants have some players. I am not sure how many LBs Giants will keep on the roster, but if it comes down to a battle between Herzlich and J T Thomas, it's going to be a really tough one. Off of the game last night, Herzlich looks much better and more game ready right now. But if you're combining performance in this camp with what you have seen from each player in the past, you might go with Thomas.He is faster and has more pedigree at LB on the defense, though perhaps not on ST. Herzlich actually looked a little trimmer and faster than I remember him being in the past  and is a pretty good ST player, so Herzlich might get the nod.

Overall on defense, I have to say that this is the best Giants tackling team I've seen in a while. I know it's only preseason, but their tackling is very sure - I hardly have seen a missed tackle. It could be because they have better athletes on the defense, but it also could be a corollary outcome of the new strength and conditioning program. It's not just there for reduced injuries, but better core strength, balance and flexibility means defenders in better position and becoming better tacklers. Let's hope it carries over to the regular season and it's not just a mirage.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

More roster follow ups

Yesterday's blog post, where I took a shot at Donnell and said I did not like him as TE is moot ---- both LaCosse and now Maleck have been waived because of injury and even the other TE option TE/FB Will Johnson has been on the shelf because of an injury - a stinger. The other player who theoretically could have served as a functional blocking TE, Nikita Whitlock, last year's FB, was waived with an injury. So a position, TE/FB that a week ago looked like it was crowded and filled with competition now is sparsely populated and Donnell will definitely make the team. But both he and in particular Tye have been called out by the coaching staff because of poor blocking, so I think Will Johnson, when healthy will play a lot. And the point of this post is to say that I would promote Jerell Adams on the depth chart and give him a a lot of snaps, even ahead of Donnell. Adams came out of college as somewhat raw, with a reputation as  a good blocking TE but questionable in the passing game. He looks like he is progressing in the passing game and that is a more natural part of everyone's game  who has ever played football, so I expect it to improve. He is playing great on ST so there is little doubt he will make the team now, but I would elevate him and see what he's got; see if he can be developed sooner rather than sitting on the bench as a long term project.

Will Beatty was resigned to prop up the OL. This makes a great deal of sense - he was never a stud LT, but he was capable; a solid NFL caliber OT. I presume that they will leave Flowers at LT and let Beatty supplant Newhouse at RT. While Beatty may not be a star, he still represents a significant upgrade to the OL. It's ironic - I had just been discussing with all my Giants buddies that the Giants in the off-season upgraded, in some cases significantly upgraded EVERY unit on the team (except for QB). We have two new DL-men in Vernon and Harrison. Really we have 4 if you count JPP and OO's emergence from the injury hell of last year. We added two LBs - Shepard and Goodson and got Casillas back to good health. Giants added 2 CBs and a safety. They added a WR (Sheppard) and RB (Perkins) in the draft. We even added a pair in the TE/FB position by drafting Adams and signing Johnson. It sure seems to me like the only unit we did not upgrade was the OL and, while the OL wasn't horrible last year, it certainly was not a unit of strength. It was one of the units that we all felt was in need of improvement. We've read all the stories from the draft room that Giants were intending to draft a T, but got outmaneuvered, ending up with Eli Apple. I think this will end up being a blessing in disguise because I think Apple will be  a stud. Nevertheless, Giants needed to upgrade the OL. With this Beatty signing, they did.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Roster moves

If this were my team, Larry Donnell would be a roster cut. He is just not good enough - he can't block at all and the poor TE work in the blocking department is one reason the OL looks worse and the running game looks worse than it should be. Donnell is a completely one dimensional player and even as a pass catcher he is somewhat limited. He is a big target, convenient for the red zone, and occasionally able to catch those seam routes. But he fumbles too often, drops too many balls, runs too upright and therefore gets attacked at his knees. He is constantly looking to protect himself from those chop-at-the-ankles-and-knees tackles and so he goes down way too easily. I haven't looked at the stats, but just viscerally, his YAC yards have to be close to 0. The only thing keeping him on the roster is that LaCosse is always injured, in fact he was waived injured today. Ryan Malleck is just not talented enough to nudge Donnell off the roster, but he is just not a quality NFL TE. If he were in his first year, we would be salivating about his upside and would be hopeful that his blocking would immprove. But let's face it - he's not a rookie, he's been in the league 4 years, if you count his year on the practice squad. If his blocking hasn't improved up until now, it probably just ain't gonna' get any better. I would promote Jerell Adams above Donnell on the depth chart. Adams was a blocking TE in college, so maybe he can do a better job than Donnell and so far, from the little I have seen of him on film from games and practice, he is flexible, quick, a decent route runner and has good hands. He's got a learning curve, to be sure, but I have given up on investing time in Donnell.

Maybe some team out there needs a TE, remembers the 3 TD performance by Donnell against the Redskins or maybe the game winning TD catch against the 49ers last year and gives us a reserve OL-man or a 3rd od 4th round draft choice in a trade.

By the way - speaking of a leopard not changing his spots - did you see that Reuben Randle was cut by the Eagles. Randle (or RFR as I call him) is one of my most unfavorite Giants players ever. OK, maybe Dave Brown is ahead of him on the list, but RFR is pretty darned close.

The other roster spot with lots of competition is WR. Tavarres King looked real good in practice and right behind him is Roger Lewis. Myles White got cut today, so it looks to me like the WR corps will be: OBJ, Sheppard, Cruz, Harris and these two neophytes: King and Lewis. Two others will probably make the practice squad: Powe and Dable.

Next question is what happens at RB. It's really hard to judge the RBs with this awful OL play. Jennings, Vereen and rookie Perkins are locks to make the team. After that, it depends if Giants carry 4 or 5 RBs. If they carry only 1 more RB and it comes down to Rainey, Darkwa and Williams, I think they may keep Darkwa and cut the otehr two. Pretty close call, though.


Third preseason game review

A couple of years ago,  at the end of the season, John Mara famously complained to Gilbride Sr and Coach Coughlin "the offense is broken, fix it". He was rightly worried about all the INTs, lack of creativity and the great complexity and indecision in the routes that the WR were running and the many midroute adjustments they had to make. This meant that the QB and WR were often not on the same page. So, we fired Gilbride, hired McAdoo as new OC and the offense greatly improved in the succeeding two years. We have a Super Bowl caliber QB, lots of talent at the skill positions, but now, however, we seem to have another problem and that is that the OL and the TEs can't block anyone. Every play was completely exploded by the Jets DL; every running play the RB was clobbered as soon as he took the handoff from Eli; and there was never a clean comfortable pocket for Eli on passing plays.

Everyone in football talks about how important the work in the trenches is and it's true. But comparatively, the OL is even more important than the DL ---- here's why: if you have a weak DL, you can still field a somewhat representative defense and cover up weakness in the DL. You would need great LBs and/or a strong secondary and some creative coaching, but you can somehow compensate for it. The defense may not be great without a good DL, but you can field a defense that is somewhat functional. But on offense, there is just no getting around a terrible OL. No matter how good your QB or other skill position players are, they can't compensate for a terrible OL. A bad OL just ruins the offense.

It's only preseason and the Jets do have a very formidable DL, Buffalo plays multiple looks and blitzes up front a lot, so perhaps we shouldn't overreact. On the other hand---- if the OL had played poorly but at least showed something, we could grasp at some straws of optimism or at least hope. But this week, the OL was just completely dominated on every play and there is definitely cause for concern, if not total panic.

On the other side of the ball, however, I think the defense has a chance to be very good. The DL has strength and depth. The starters look great - two excellent DTs in Harrison and Hankins; two excellent DEs in Vernon and JPP. Some depth off the bench in Bromley and Odigizuwa, and even a young "comer" in Okwara who looks great. Towards the end of the game Okwara was abusing the Jets OL, looking like LT in his prime. Granted he was going against 2nd and 3rd string players --- but he just looks like a player. The LBs all of a sudden look like a formidable group with Casillas really standing out (hope the rib injury sin't too bad) and competnet depth behind all the LBs. I am really enthused about ELi Apple, he looks great. Right now, I think he s a better CB than expensive FA Janoris Jenkins. Collins looks better than last year, actually making some plays in the passing game.

The defense has a chance to be really good, but no team can be a playoff team or a serious contender without good OL play and right now, we're not showing it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Training Camp observations I

I haven't  been out to training camp yet, planning to go next week sometime. Consequently, these observations are limited to the various reports from all the media outlets that I read voraciously and from the film that I watch, released by the Giants and from other sources.

It seems that our QB is having a great camp and is feeling very comfortable with the weapons and the offense. We can't get overconfident in this, because in camp, the OL and DL don't get to grit their teeth and go after it that hard - they don't hit the QB, the QB knows he's not going to get hit, so he just stands there and throws. Nevertheless, it's better that he looks great than not. He threw an INT on the first pass in camp and has not thrown one since. I said this before and it may sound ridiculous - but if it's possible for a two time Super Bowl MVP to be underrated, Eli is the one.

Everyone is excited about Sterling Shepard; he seems to make a big play every practice and is very polished and professional. You can't get too crazy about the highlights the Giants release of him, because they are after all highlights meant to show off the best in a player. But he does certainly look like a play maker. The flip side of that is that while everyone is saying that Cruz is coming along and if he ends up delivering 75% or 80% of what he used to be, all will be well in Giants land. I disagree. He's not and never has been a dominant physical presence. He is smallish and quick, not a speed merchant. He was dangerous for a slot receiver, perhaps the most dangerous slot receiver in the league. But it may be a very narrow margin and if he loses that step, that quickness that distinguished him, it's possible that he could become a very ordinary receiver. Parallel history lesson: There was an NBA player named Hal Greer - great player, played on the old 76er teams with Wilt Chamberlain. He was a 6'2" guard, quick as could be. He didn't have to worry about dropping down to help rebound, because Wilt had his back. When the opposing shot went up, he ran down court, caught an outlet pass from Chamberlain, dribbled hard to the basket, stopped at the foul line, let everyone run past him and scored 10 points a game on open jump shots from the foul line. As he aged, one year he lost a step and no longer could beat everyone down the court. He was out of the league in a year. Sometimes it's a very thin margin that makes a player special and when he loses that edge, he doesn't go from great to very good, he goes from great to ordinary.

From what I've seen on film of Cruz, he does not have the sharpness and separation ability in his routes. When he runs the hook / comeback routes, it looks like he has to take 4 or 5 little baby steps to slow down and stop before he comes back for the ball. This gives the DB a chance to break on the route and stop the play. The 4 or 5 steps could be an indication of weakness in his calf and knee or his mental uncertainty in trusting his legs. Or it could be that the Giants are asking him to proceed slowly and he is working his way back. But if you look at his physical condition, his upper body strength, he looks great; so you would expect his wheels to be equally strong. The fact that they don't look great to me is a warning signal.

TE is a really interesting position to handicap. LaCosse has played well but keeps getting hurt. Will Tye played very well last year and is a lock to make the team. Donnell is big, has talent the Giants love, but he drops the ball, fumbles after the catch, falls on his head after every catch and has a close to 0 YAC number. When this happens to a rookie, you hope for improvement, but he's been around too long to have strong expectations that this will change. The draftee Adams will probably show enough in camp and in game films that the Giants will not be able to sneak him through onto the practice squad. They have Will Johnson who will take up snaps at TE during the season...... my point is: I am not sure Donnell's roster spot is safe.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Draft Review Take 1

The draft of 2016 is history now and the experts, god bless them, have actually come out with their first mock drafts for 2017. That's pretty crazy because, of course, you don't know what order the teams will be drafting and what needs they will have. I am a little ambivalent about the draft results this year - so i  will try to take both the pessimistic and optimistic views and try to be objective about the draft bounty this year. On the surface, this was a very good draft, if we look at the players that were added. Eli Apple looks like he will be a very good CB in this league. He has excellent cover skills, good size and great hips and footwork. In the pass happy NFL, with most teams running out 3 WRs and pass receiving capable TEs, you need 3 good CBs, not 2. So the idea of drafting a CB is fine. The fact that nearly every draft expert had Hargreaves rated ahead of Apple should give us pause, especially with some spotty player evaluations that the personnel evaluators have brought in recent past. But Giants had both CBs available to them and obviously gave Apple higher grades, so i can't beat them up for that. The questionable side of this pick is that there was Myles Jack and Tunsil available for the taking at positions of need, LB and OL. It's clear that after the Damontre Moore and Marvin Austin disasters of last couple of years, Giants were being extra conservative and taking players that were squeaky clean. They also were taking players that performed well on the football field and were not taking players only because of their performance at the combine. The other factor shaping their decision making was the injury bug, so I can understand backing away from Jack. When Reese tells us Apple was the best player on the board ---- well maybe so, but this was clearly a need pick. You just have to hope that they did not reach too far and that Apple will develop into a star CB. You don't pick in the top 10 hoping for the player to just make the team and be a rotation player - you want excellence.

In the second round, Shepard is a terrific pick at WR. He has excellent route running skills, great hands and if he is playing opposite OBJ, enough speed to burn the DBs and make some plays. Everyone says he is a slot type WR and reminds them of the second coming of Victor Cruz. That may be his size and his style, but I think he can be a throwback to Steve Smith, who was an excellent WR for NYG until he suffered bad knee injury. The S in the third round from Boise State, Darian Thompson is someone who will definitely compete for a starting S job. With all the young talented athletes Giants have at that position - we can expect at least one of them to step forward and grow into a solid starting S.

In summary - Giants got good talent in these three picks, but may have overshot and reached for their first round pick Apple. My big worry from these first three picks and from the draft overall is that Giants did not get any help for that right side of the OL. That has to be addressed before the season with some veteran FA.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Mocking Mock Drafts

These mock drafts are hilarious, really. They're fun and they get eyeballs on the screen or perusing the newspaper, I understand that part. But they are seriously flawed from two important perspectives. First - the mock drafters put their draft together purely on the basis of the need of the team, or at least their perceived need of the team. The teams on the other hand, at least pay lip service to the philosophy of drafting the BPA, best player available. On the surface, these approaches directly conflict with each other. Occasionally at the top end of the draft, the team's needs coincide with the BPA and everyone is happy. On the other hand, I think the teams always tint their player evaluations with team need, or with some other subjective measure. For example, the best QB in the draft will be more important and will have a higher grade than the best LG in the draft. But player evaluations are more complex than that, because it is not only a question of who is the best player, or what is the ranking of all the players at a particular position. It is also a question of whether the player is NFL ready. In one year it could be a very weak draft for WR, for example. Obviously, the best WR in that draft may not warrant a high first round pick. Each team puts together their draft board based on quality of player, importance of position, overall grade compared to the ideal player at the position and they must sprinkle in at least some part of team need. In the early rounds of the draft, the contribution of team need plays less into the decision making, because the team really is looking for a star, regardless (almost) of position. In the later rounds, when the players are more bunched together in talent and the team is less likely to find a star, team need will factor more into the selection. If you believe the teams, they use these factors to calculate a score for each player and list them in order from highest to lowest. They take the best player left on their board whenever their turn comes up. Last year, Giants needed a S and they loved Collins, who was high on their board. It was a moment when need coincided with the draft board, so they traded up to get him in the 2nd round.

Two great stories about drafting BPA vs. team need.

In 1980, Giants were coming off an awful season and had the second overall pick in the draft, behind New Orleans Saints. The Giants were just an awful team, no offensive talent to speak of - they did have Phil Simms at QB, though he was going through his early career injury period, but their OL and skill position talent was really poor. On defense they had a player or two on the DL and in the secondary, George Martin and Mark Haynes to be specific, but that's it. What they did have was three outstanding LBs in Harry Carson, Brian Kelly and Brad Van Pelt, which was the only strong unit on the team. With that second overall pick, the fans, the TV/radio media and the print media were campaigning for the Giants to pick some offensive talent or perhaps some defensive players on the DL and in the DB-field, but not a LB. The first pick was by Bum Phillips, newly appointed coach / GM of the Saints and he took George Rogers, Heisman Trophy winner, RB out of South Carolina. George Young picked Lawrence Taylor and the rest is history. George Young said that the fastest he has ever run was to get the pick of Taylor up to the podium.  LT was clearly the BPA and Young picked him despite having the only real talent on the team at his LB position. Phillips, on the other hand, made a need pick with Rogers - he believed that the RB was the most important position on the team, having just coached Earl Campbell in Houston. How'd that work out for those teams?

Second story is about the Dallas Cowboys and their legendary HC, Tom Landry. He was famous for drafting good players and for being faithful to the best player available philosophy. He said that he deviated from this strategy just once - in the 1979 draft - and it cost him greatly. He had an aging Roger Staubach at QB on the roster, who would retire after the 1979 season. He also had the QB in waiting, the QB of the future on the roster, a young good QB named Danny White. Consequently, he deviated from his BPA philosophy just this once and drafted some nondescript players in first few rounds. The BPA, the player he passed up because he had his QB of the future already on the roster was Joe Montana. 'Nuff said.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Statistics and Injuries

Those of you who know me know that I am interested in mathematics and statistics and will occasionally look at them in order to prove a point or guide a discussion. In the e-world, many Giants fans have been pointing to the strength and conditioning program and how the many injuries that the Giants have had are entirely the fault of the S&C program not keeping up with modern training techniques. The flip side is the Coughlin perspective who said over and over again that the piling up of injuries is just bad luck. The truth probably lies somewhere in between - you certainly cannot blame every injury that occurred on a flawed S&C program. Football is a violent sport, with heavy collisions that put a medical and orthopedic strain on the body. No doubt injuries will occur no matter how well conditioned the athletes are. Having said that, there are certainly training programs that can limit or contain some of the injuries, especially those that are not direct result of collisions and are more muscular and soft tissue injuries. Last year, after Beatty tore his pectoral muscle while working in the weight room, Coughlin instituted some changes in the program. There were "spa days" or recovery days, they used GPS devices to track the number of hits and the force of the collisions that each player experienced during practice, but still the injuries continued. (Note: later Beatty tore the rotator cuff in his shoulder while rehabbing from his pectoral injury.) The changes that Coughlin instituted after the Beatty injury, I believe were effective in reducing injuries. But they didn't address the core problem - a strength and conditioning program that was mostly focused on the "strength" part of the program and not enough on the "conditioning" part. Core strength, balance, flexibility, long lean muscles, efficiency of movement and pure conditioning are more important than how much weight the player can lift. Strength is important, but not at the expense of conditioning. Better conditioning contributes not only to reduced injuries but also to more effective play on the field.

Now to my statistical analysis of why this injury bug just can't be luck. Football Outsiders tracks a statistic called adjusted games lost (AGL) for each team. The reason it is adjusted games lost and not just total games lost is that they adjust the number on basis of which player was lost. They value loss of a starter or regular rotation player more than a bench player, rendering the statistic a little more meaningful. The Giants finished last of all 32 teams in the league in this AGL statistic for the last 3 years, something that's very hard to do. But it's too easy to simply say, it's unlikely and that this could happen by chance without putting some hard measurements around it. Here goes.

I looked at the AGL statistics for the last two years, 2015 and 2014. I made the fairly safe assumption that the  AGL sample for each year was normally distributed. I then calculated the average and standard deviation for each year. The standard deviation is a measure for how widely spread the measurements are around the mean. For example, if a student's average score on two tests that he took is 80, he may have gotten 75 and 85 on his two tests or may have gotten scores of 100 and 60. In both cases the average is 80, but in the second case the standard deviation is greater because the scores are more widely spread around the mean. For a "normal distribution" 99.7% of all the possible measurements are within 3 standard deviations of the mean. In 2015 the Giants' AGL was more than 3 standard deviations away from the mean and in 2014 it was slightly less than that, about 2.59 standard deviations away. Using these statistics and the normal distribution, you can calculate the probability that a team will get a sample score less than (or greater than) a particular number.

OK ---- for those of you whose eyes are glazed over with these boring statistics, let me turn this into English. The probability that by pure chance a number would be less than or equal to the Giants AGL for year 2015 is 99.88%. The same probability for year 2014 is 99.5%.
Looking at it another way, the probability that a random score would be greater than the Giants for 2015 and 2014 are respectively: .119% and .482%

Putting these together - the probability that any team could do as badly as the Giants in both years together is .000574%

Understanding this better - that is 5.7 chances out of a million.
(With apologies to D&D, quoting Lloyd Christmas... " so you're saying there's a chance")

Looking at the second worst team in the two year period, the Washington Redskins were .38%

In other words, Giants were roughly 1,000 times worse than the second worst team in the league over the 2 year period.

Here's hoping the new S&C coach does a little better than the last one.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Team Building Strategy

Coming into the off season, Giants were sitting on a boatload of salary cap space and when they cut Beatty and Schwartz, they opened up even more cap space. As fans, we all looked at the enormous number - estimated at around $57M and salivated like Pavlov's dogs at feeding time imagining all the players NYG could "buy" with all that cap space. In the first wave of FA buying, the Giants didn't sit idle; Reese went out and bought four premium (we hope) players for the defense. After those acquisitions, the Giants still had somewhere around $22-25M in cap space to spend. That's a fairly hefty upper limit on the credit card, and we fans were hoping that they would bring in a S, one or two OL-men, a WR and maybe even a LB. Just some back of the envelope calculations - NYG needs to save about $6M for the rookie pool, so for that approximately remaining $16-19M we could have filled some of those needs with some pretty good players. What's the point of having the salary cap space if you're not going to use it?

I think the takeaway from this approach and from the fact that NYG did not spend all the cap money they had is that this was an organizational decision coming directly from the owners. They imposed a strategy on the team as an organization and are clearly adding a business filter on player acquisition. When I say business approach, I am not just talking about saving money and limiting its spending; I am referring to organic growth of the team and the organization as a business over a several year time frame, not just tactical, immediate success in one particular year. While we as fans only care about win-now, the owners care about sustained success.

Mara very famously and publicly said the roster was deficient of talent and it's up to Jerry Reese to fix it. This is clearly a make or break year for Reese. Mara gave him some rope to play with and let him sign some players to jump start the reload, but Mara wants to see the full body of work and the overall roster construction before he gives Reese all $57M in cap space to spend. Mara wants to save some cash and cap space for next year. If Giants under-spend this year, they can carry some of the unused cap space over to next year. If Reese's FA players don't work out and if his draft is not good, that unused, carried-over cap space will be available for the next GM to use. I think that also is the reason Giants did not sign a veteran S and are whispering that the roster currently has three young S on it, one of who they expect to emerge as an NFL caliber starter. That seems rather hopeful and not necessarily practical, doesn't it? Let's not forget - this is a test for Reese and Mara may be genuinely unsure if Reese is the long term GM. He wants him to succeed of course. But if he fails, he needs to have an alternative plan so the franchise doesn't go down in flames next year also, if Reese's acquisitions this year prove flawed. It is likely that Reese had told Mara that his drafts were good and were hurt by injuries, some of whom were the S that were drafted last 2 years: Berhe, Taylor, Jackson and Thompson. No doubt, Mara is responding - if your drafts were so good and if you think one of these S will emerge, then don't sign one now and let's see if they really do work out as you promised. If they do - great for NYG and Reese. If they don't work out, it might be another black mark on the debit side of Reese's ledger.

Obviously, this upcoming draft is really important for Reese.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Roster

I have written here a few times about the need to get some S help for this defense. Giants invested in the defensive front and in a CB. To me, it doesn't make sense to expose the back end of the defense with a weak S to undercut the investment elsewhere. Even if they acquire  a young S talent that they think will be good, we don't want him learning on the job. There should be a veteran, solid S to manage things and control things until a new younger player comes along - so goes my logic.  Giants apparently don't completely agree. Word creeping out of NFL team meetings and coaches' meetings is that the Giants feel that they have enough talent at the S position on the current roster so that one of them will emerge as the starter. Between Nat Berhe, Bennett Jackson, Mykelle Thompson and Cooper Taylor, one will step up and show the talent to play. I have no doubt that one or maybe two of them will show more ability and will beat out the others for a starting position. But just because one is better than the others, that doesn't mean that without any NFL experience they will demonstrate the ability to be a starting level quality NFL safety. These players were on the roster last year, and in Berhe's case, the year before that as well. So the Giants did get a good look at them in NFL environment. But they did not play in  an NFL game (again except for a precious few snaps by Berhe) and  there is absolutely no evidence that they can play S at the pro level. The S  position is one of the positions on defense where play is not formulaic - there are reads, instincts and intuition that the S has to rely on to make decisions on where to run, where to give help, whether to charge up and support a run play, drop into pass coverage on a play  fake, give help on the right side or left side, etc. While speed and athleticism are important, experience greatly plays into this decision making, perhaps more than any other position on defense with possible exception of MLB.

Let's hope the Giants are right and one S will emerge as a good quality NFL starter. But let's also hope the Giants have a backup plan and they can bring in a veteran, perhaps low cost,  S as a "hold-the-fort-guy" (Parcells-ism) until they develop.

Giants have said that they are not finished with FA and they will add more players. but it seems apparent that they are going to wait and try to get lower priced players later in FA, maybe after they see how the draft settles out. There are too many openings to presume that they will all be filled in the draft. In the past, the Giants would fill their obvious openings early with FA so that they could go into the draft with the ability to pick the best player available, without regard to position. The Ernie Accorsi-ism was always: "don't take your depth chart into the draft room". It looks like NYG is taking a slightly different approach now. They brought in lots of FA talent on defense but are clearly not filling ALL of their holes. My guess is that the they will see what they need after the draft, and finish constructing the roster after that. They may add some low cost, low risk players before the draft, but the roster is far from complete. Even if they decide that they don't need to pursue a S, they need to do something on the OL and at WR. We'll see.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


Giants signed Brinkley as a backup MLB. That's the topper, the final piece - make your Super Bowl LI reservations, 'cuz NYG is on the way.

What was this about? I think it speaks volumes for their intentions for the year, their view of the team and their road map for the rest of the FA signing period. First: Brinkley isn't awful; he played OK last year. Not great, but not terrible either. Of course on this Giants defense, he stood out somehow as a beacon of mediocrity on a team that had the worst defense in the league last year and moreover, was the 3rd worst defense in the history of the NFL. NYG signed a designated MLB starter in Keenan Robinson and we needed a backup, so we signed Brinkley. We're not in love with either player, obviously, else we would have signed one of them for more than one year. We also picekd these guys off the bargain rack -  we didn't exactly have to outbid anyone to get them. In fact, Reese was quoted as saying "we hope it will be a bounce back year for Robinson". Maybe one or the other of them will surprise us, but in any case we will more than likely have a new MLB in the starting line up come 2017. Nice to rebuild the defense with DL help and with a new CB, but it certainly shows that Reese hasn't changed his mind about the limited value of LBs in today's NFL.

The other thing it shows is that the Giants ownership hasn't given Reese a blank checkbook to buy FAs. Rather, after the first rush of expensive signings, NYG is being much more prudent in throwing money around, even though we have enough cap space to sign 1 or 2 more premium FAs. NYG did not sign OL help, WR or S. I guess when Mara said it's on Reese, he wants to test him in the draft as well as get fat on the FA market. It's almost as if owners are willing to have a "pretty good" yea in 2016 instead of reaching for the brass ring. Instead they will go for it next year with Reese or some other FA driving the bus.

Why wouldn't the Giants make a play for Penn, Okung or one of the other OL FAs. Neither one signed for big money and Okung did not even demand a signing bonus. It's one thing to go into the season with an average right side of the OL and hope to improve in the draft or later in the preseason with other teams' cuts. But it's not the same when you don't have any players at all on the OL.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Salary Cap I

With a few days to catch a breath and evaluate the shopping spree that our GM Reese just went on, it is interesting to consider what an enormous change this was for NYG. The accepted, long standing wisdom is that sustained success comes in the NFL primarily from the draft. Free agency is for plugging some holes, for making short term acquisitions at specific positions that you may not be able to fill in the draft, but the core of your team needs to come from the draft. Giants have always been strong proponents of that philosophy. But in truth, Giants have made key FA acquisitions in the past that led to championships; specifically I am thinking of Kareem MacKenzie, Shaun O'Hara, Antonio Pierce and Plaxico Burress, to name a few, all major FA signings for big money (at the time) that jump started the team and primed them for a title run. In addition, there were some short term acquisitions that really helped - I am thinking here of Kawika Mitchell who had a huge, highly effective, if somewhat forgotten season in 2007. Even Sam Madison contributed greatly. These last two, Mitchell and Madison were more of the fill-in style FA that we are used to seeing from the Giants. But the others mentioned earlier were big ticket acquisitions. What makes this year's FA class different is that they all came in the same year, in the same day actually, and the money seems way higher. But - you really have to compare the salaries not to what other players, who signed pre-2016 have gotten, rather what the players are getting this year. It is really not enough to just say - this is what the market is today, without looking a little deeper at to why there is so much money to throw around today. The temptation is to look at it with a simple ratio of contract versus salary cap. As a simple example, Plaxico Burress signed a FA contract with the Giants in March 2005. The contract was for 6 years and valued at $25 million. I won't go into the details of what the signing bonus was, what was guaranteed, etc., let's just say that the average annual value of the contract was around $4.16M per year. The salary cap in 2005 was around $85.5 million; translating Burress' contract with a simple ratio to the 2016 salary cap of $155.27 M would make that 4.16 M be equivalent to $7.5 M in today's adjusted salary cap dollars. Not a bad haul, but not near what the top receivers and top players are getting today.

A more sophisticated look considers not just the ratio of salary cap from one year to another, but rather the trend in growth over a 2 or 3 year period. Take a look at the following graph:

As you can see above, in the period between 2009 and 2013 the salary cap was relatively flat, hovering at around $120M per year. This included one year, 2010 which technically was uncapped when the league and NFLPA were negotiating their contract. But the uncapped year was in name only - teams knew that they could not overreach in the uncapped year, because when the cap was re-instituted the following year, 2011, they would be in salary cap hell, with lots of players to dump. In fact the Cowboys and Redskins tried to evade the rules and were penalized by the NFL. My point is that during this 5 year period of 2009-2013 where the salary cap was flat, teams had to manage their cap carefully and had to keep player salaries controlled. Now look at the tail of the curve, the period from 2014-2016 where the salary cap grew by $32 M in those 3 years. It's not just the growth this year in 2016 - it's the sustained growth over last 3 years, compared to no growth for the 5 years before that. If you're a mathematics nerd like me, you talk about the derivative, or rate of change of the graph. The derivative was essentially 0 for 4 years and now the rate of change is approximately 8% per year, which when compounded over last 3 years is around 26% growth. The key factor that is encouraging teams to throw around money is that there are no indications that this rate of change will end. We can't be sure or course that it will be 8% again next year, but as TV rights continue to grow, we can be confident that it will go up. In the period of no growth of salary cap, if players salaries would rise as their contracts progressed, the teams would be more strapped cap-wise and unable to make moves. Now however, if teams back-load a contract, they can have confidence that the salary cap will continue to rise and they will have cap money to cover their outlays. In fact, it makes sense to sign top players to long term contracts, because natural growth in the cap will make their annual salaries seem small compared to cap growth in future years. It's kind of like borrowing money today in a period of high inflation - you're paying it back tomorrow in cheaper dollars.

Teams still don't love to shell out huge FA contracts, because the expensive FA contracts take cash out of the team coffers for signing bonuses. But when you're desperate like the Giants were this year, spending the money to get good players is an investment. When the team wins, the value of the franchise is increased. More on salary cap management in later posts.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Keenan Robinson

There is an upside to Keenan Robinson - he is really fast and a good cover LB. The bad side is his injury history, which is not good. If the Giants were trying to steer away from players with an injury history and keep guys on the field, it's not clear how K Robinson fits that profile. Giants have left the middle of their defense wide open against the pass for several years now. TEs and RBs have had free reign in those middle of the field zones. Some of the blame is on the pass rush, because even a good cover LB can not cover a TE for 5 seconds. But Giants don't have good LBs, so it's on them as well.

I think K Robinson signing is one of the typical Reese bargain hunting buys. Redskins didn't want him because of the injuries and because his performance dropped off towards the end of the year. Reese wanted him because (1) every team needs a MLB and we don't have one on the roster right now and (2) when NYG played Redskins in 2014, Robinson had a big game, making 14 tackles and getting an INT. I have been disappointed with the pro scouting since Gettleman, who was head of pro personnel scouting for us, left to become GM of Carolina. He nailed Reese in the Beason trade, and we took Beason because his stat sheet said that he had made a lot of tackles earlier in his career. Apparently, that's how we do scouting.... either we look at the statistics sheet or we look at the games the player played against us. Like I said, I am hoping Robinson plays well, and he does have good speed, but I don't think he should make flight reservations for the pro bowl in Hawaii quite yet. And NYG needs some insurance at the position in case he turns out to be a bust.

Second Day of FA

S is key position. I think it is specifically important to get a S with a  proven track record in FA rather than try someone out in the draft. Bad safety play can wreck a defense. I know what you're thinking - in 1986 Giants won a Super Bowl with Herb Welch at S, but it was a different game then. Landon Collins could be really good, I really like him, but there were times where he really struggled last year. With the investment we have made at CB, and in the DL, I don't want to waste it with questionable S play. The biggest risk signing was the CB Jenkins. He's very talented, but a gambler. Having a S on top that can cover for him occasionally is doubly important. I would not mind Walter Thurmond at S.

Giants signed the MLB from Redskins Keenan Robinson. Don't know if he's good, but you do need someone in the middle of that defense. Last time we signed a MLB away from Redskins it was Antonio Pierce and he worked out pretty well.  

As far as TE - I don't think Reese is going there. I think they will try to get a good #2WR and with Cruz and Beckham, he will go with the TEs currently on the roster. 

As far as the MLB - I am reminded of an old Casey Stengel story. He was the first manager of the Mets and his first pick in the expansion draft was Hobie Landrith, a catcher. When Casey was asked why he took Landrith, he said: because if you don't have a catcher, you get a lot of passed balls. I kind of feel the same way about this MLB. If you don't have one, you get a lot of guys running up the middle against your defense, but I am not sure how good this guy is.
OK, time to come out of retirement.

This blog has been sitting here staring at me in the face for a couple of years now, but I needed some motivation to actually take it out of mothballs. Instead of sending around my comments to friends in emails, which people find so annoying, i decided to resurrect this blog. Here goes:

First comments from March 10th:

Reese may have overpaid for these players and there are definitely some risks, which I will outline below, but the bottom line is that the defense was completely devoid of quality players and good athletes and needed an enormous infusion of athleticism/talent. They seem to have gotten some of that yesterday. 

One thing to like about all three players is that they are not aging, oft-injured players. In addition to getting new S&C coach, Giants are probably trying to steer clear of injury creating situations, such as signing older players or players with long history of injury. No doubt this went into the decision to cut Beatty and Schwartz and not to resign Prince. JPP is a different story - that was not an injury that was an accident. 

CB Jenkins is very talented, very athletic, but apparently a real gambler. He is boom or bust - gets beat deep at times, bites on fakes and double moves, but also makes big plays. He has lots of talent, so perhaps Spagnuolo can mold him and develop him properly. I like Prince, but I believe they were scared off by injuries. This guy has big upside and nice to have two dangerous CBs

Vernon is the best DE edge pass rusher left on the FA market, but that doesn't mean he's worth what we paid for him. The worry about him is the famous Leonard Marshall syndrome. Marshall played DE next to LT. He made a bunch of plays, even made pro bowl one year. Then he left the Giants and signed a big FA contract with the Jets who were hoping he would replicate the productivity he showed with the Giants for the Jets. Unfortunately they did not have LT playing LB for them. He was out of the league one year later. Vernon was playing next to Suh who attracted a lot of attention, leaving Vernon to face many 1-on-1 situations. So maybe his sacks and numbers this past year were largely a function of that. BUT ----- Vernon was also fairly productive the few years before Suh arrived; in total he had very good numbers over the past 3 or 4 years. he is young, maybe he is coming into his own, he has a real upside. 

The best signing may have been Harrison. He is an absolute stud at DT, maybe one of the best 3 or 4 DTs in football, especially if you just look at run stoppers. He did play in a 3-4 and now will be a 4-3 DT, which is an adjustment. Not everyone who is built for one canexcel in the other defense. But he is very good. Hankins and Harrison in the middle of the defense is solid and gives the DEs room to be creative. JPP had trouble closing the deal last year and actually making tackles because of the hand, but he was very disruptive and did get into the backfield to cause pressure. When he came back all of a sudden Ayers woke up and started making some plays because the OL had to pay attention to JPP. With JPP, Harrison and Hankins, even if Vernon's numbers were slightly inflated by Suh, he also has some protection on this newly reconstituted DL.

It's interesting that NYG did not go after a LB, also a need. But - there were no Kuchlys on the market and it's not worth overspending on a LB that is not a 3 down player. Very few LBs are nowadays - that doesn't mean you don't need LBs, you definitely need them - it's just that the LBs that can cover the TEs and the RBs or the zones in the middle of the field are often not big enough to stand up to the run; converse is also true of course. Many of the LBs have become situational players now. Makes it hard to find them and play defense because a team can still throw in down and distance and with personnel package that might indicate a run. It's probably why a great pass catching TE is so valuable. LB usually plays off and gives the TE free release and if he's a great pass catcher, that's all he needs to get going. Hard to defend. 

Bottom line is that if they had gotten only one of these defensive players it would not have improved the defense that much. The fact that they got all of them is possibly a huge upgrade because the opposing offenses can't concentrate on one. Spagnuolo has some work to do but he has some talent to work with now. Like I said above, they may have overspent, but even if these guys don't play to their contract numbers, but are still very good players..... who cares. I tried to find the TV rights fees for the next several years, but could not find it.... but I do know  that they're going up, which means the salary cap will continue to go up next year. So we may not be capped out next year by these big contracts this year.

BTW ---- with all this money being thrown around, how much of a bargain does Eli look like right now. Especially after Bradford, Flacco, Chase Daniels contracts!

Still need: S, LB, right side of OL, WR. Highest priority in FA I think is a S. The rest we can fill with draft choices, spare parts, value/bargain FAs. But after spending all this $$$ on defense, I don't want a rookie S who learns the position while getting beat deep 3 times a game.