September 2006


  • Fortunately, some of the Giants came to Colonel Tom’s defense. This is a good: you’d be worried if the G-Men pulled a Yankees-with-A-Rod and were like, “That’s between Jeremy and Tom.” But it looks like they jumped to defend him, showing that they realize the importance of staying unified behind the coach. Tiki, the guy who brought “outcoached” into the lexicon, said that the team’s morale is “solid. It is very decent. Mainly because we have a good leader in Coach Coughlin.”
  • Mike Garafolo on the Tim Lewis press conference. It remains pretty confounding that the defense has been so bad. According to Secondary Coach Peter Giunta, when it comes to the D-backs, “It’s more mental than physical.” I guess that’s better than if our guys just weren’t very good. It somewhat explainable, too, if not acceptable: three out of the four starters in the secondary are new to the starting Giant defensive backfield.
  • Another article about communication problems in the secondary. After last Sunday’s embarrassing performance, during which the Seahawks receivers found themselves wide open on at least four touchdowns, it certainly seems like something that needs to be addressed. Strangely, the Giants are citing the off-season loss of… Brent Alexander(!) as a big factor in their defensive confusion. Apparently, Alexander, despite his declining physical skills, was very knowledgeable about Tim Lewis’ defense and would direct his secondary-mates before the snap. Will Demps, who stepped into Alexander’s role this year, is new to the system, and admitted that he hasn’t done the best job of quarterbacking the secondary. It’s been a bad start, but look at it this way: there are a lot of things about this team that you can reasonably expect will substantially improve as the year goes on.
  • Carlos Emmons is out 3-4 weeks with a partially torn pec. This guy hasn’t been able to stay on the field, and at this point, I’d rather just see what Gerris Wilkinson can do. If not Wilkinson, Brandon Short is a solid option. I have to say, I’d be somewhat disappointed if Emmons regains his starting job when he comes back – he’s a fine player, but there’s no reason not to think that he won’t just get injured again.
  • If you want to look through it, here’s the complete transcript of the interviews with the positional coaches. If you don’t want to look through it, Ralph Vacchiano pulls out some excerpts. Bill Sheridan, the linebackers coach, spends every single question on LaVar. Let me ask you this, though: If Antonio Pierce had been the marquee free agent this year and LaVar was the guy that had the good year last year, wouldn’t people be all over Pierce like they are LaVar? I mean, it’s not as if LaVar’s the only guy on the defense who’s not setting the world on fire.
  • Scrolling down a bit, one of the reporters asked a good question about Corey Webster’s difficulties playing the ball, as evidenced by the touchdown surrendered to Brown in the Eagle game, and against Jackson in the Seattle game. Good question: I thought Will Allen and his horrific ball-skills went to Miami? Besides, I thought Webster, a former wide receiver, was supposed to be really good at playing the ball.
  • And finally, the interview with the special teams coach reminded me of something I’ve been thinking: Have you noticed that our wedge on kickoff returns doesn’t get out in front of the returner sufficiently? It seems like Morton has to run laterally for far too long in order to get into the wedge before he heads up-field. Our poor return game is hard to fathom since we were so good in this area last year. According to FootballOutsiders, our kick return game is the 6th worst in the league with a -1.7 DVOA. Our punt return game is below average too, with a DVOA of -0.6. Overall, our special teams ranks 18th in the NFL with a -0.9%. It hasn’t been disastrous, but it certainly hasn’t been a strength like it was last year, when we posted a 4.4% DVOA, 2nd in the league.
  • If you haven’t seen this on Deadspin yet, Bob Whitfield is a Suzy Kolber fan.
  • Strahan’s not worried about the lack of sacks; he even contends that the front four “played very well” against Seattle. This doesn’t really seem accurate: Hasselbeck had all sorts of time in the pocket. It also flies in the face of Tim Lewis himself saying, “We’re not getting nearly as much pressure on the quarterback as we need to.” Of course, it’s hard to get a clear take on the pass-rush because the secondary has been so terrible. On the other hand, that goes both ways.
  • Michael David Smith says that Tim Lewis needs to get creative in finding ways to get to the quarterback. He puts the Giants pass-rushing difficulties into stark clarity with the following statistic: “Big Blue’s ratio of one sack for every 59.5 pass attempts is by far the worst in the NFL, and it is light years behind the team’s performance last year, when they had 41 sacks in 580 attempts, or one for every 14 passes.”
  • Ernie Palladino says the Giants have just concluded a week of practice “that included two ‘unity’ speeches by Coughlin, a load of introspection, and two hard practices stressing fundamentals with a hopeful feeling.” Later in the article, he says the Giants worked a lot on red-zone situations. The Giants red-zone defense has been bad, 8th worst in the league, with opponents scoring eight touchdowns in twelve trips (66.7%). Offensively, they’re 4 for 5 (80%).
  • Thanks to the bye-week, Plax’s back has had time to heal. His back had anything to do with the three horrendous mistakes in last Sunday’s game (the push-off, the fumble, and the dropped pass that became an interception), but it’s good that the injury won’t be an issue like it could have been had he continued to push it.
  • The Giants coaching staff continues to resist the no-huddle, giving the rationale that being in the shotgun limits what they want to do in the running game with Tiki. The way I see it, however, is that Tiki is really good at running traps and draw plays out of the shotgun. When he is in space, with a moment to read the field, he is awesome. I really think we should give more serious consideration to the no-huddle as a viable option, especially because Eli is such a rhythm passer.
  • There are rumblings that R.W. will replace Madison as the starting corner (look at the end of the article). Madison is really struggling, that’s for sure.

Introducing the first NYGMen mailbag. I encourage all of you to write with your opinions and questions. In the meantime, enjoy the bye week – it couldn’t have come at a better time. 

**

Flume writes:

Eh, like I said before, what Shockey said wasn’t the huge deal that everyone has made it. And he did Coughlin a favor by becoming the scapegoat for Sunday. The real problem is that Coughlin’s disciplinary style only works when the team wins. All the yelling and cursing doesn’t work for a team that sucks. The question I would like answered is why Shockey has been relegated to a blocking tight end? I mean it seems like this guy has totally been taken out of the equation. Greg, your thoughts?

Flume:

I don’t really agree with your assessment that Shockey has been relegated to a blocking tight end. There was a lot made of Shockey’s dissatisfaction with the offense back in 2004 when Coughlin first came aboard, and this might still lead to the perception that Shockey’s game is being shackled. But last year, Shockey had probably the best receiving year of his career. Although he had 891 yards compared to 894 in his rookie year (which was his second best year), he had 7 touchdowns last year compared to 2, and averaged 13.7 yards per catch compared to 12.1.

Also, Shockey was thrown to 122 times last year, second among NFL Tight Ends only to Antonio Gates, for whom the Chargers design their passing-game around because they don’t have as good wide receivers as the G-Men. So if Shockey isn’t a pass catching tight end, then who is?

Shockey’s gotten off to a bit of a slow start, but not really. His 11 catches put him on pace for 58 (last year he had 65), and his 134 yards put him on pace for 715. That’s after three games only, so it’s not as if Shockey’s that far from his career norms that alarm bells should be sounded.

Furthermore, if there’s one thing that’s going well for the Giants, it’s their passing game. FootballOutsiders’ DVOA rankings has the Giants ranked 6th in the NFL with a 22.2% DVOA. Eli Manning has the 7th highest quarterback ranking in the league. If there’s a problem with the passing game, it’s that Eli’s gotten sacked 9 times in 3 games – The Giants are tied with four other teams in this category and ahead of six others. Plus, eight of those sacks came in the Philly game.

What’s weird about Shockey’s season so far is that he’s been completely invisible in the first half of games. Only one of his eleven catches have been in the first half.

 

Rockwell writes:

Why do you think Washington let Arrington go? Many of the same criticisms were leveled against him in DC, although he could still come up with a game-changing play or a jarring hit. He’s a gamble definitely. Certainly, he’s not the same as he was before the injuries.

Rockwell:

You asked me a question about why the ‘Skins let Arrington go, but before I get to that, I have a question for you: All I want is to be left alone in my average home. So why do I always feel like I’m in the twilight zone?

Now, onto LaVar. Yes, definitely a huge gamble. I saw him on Inside the NFL on Wednesday, and I was pretty confounded by some of the stuff he was saying. He pretty much chalked up his dissatisfaction with the Redskins the past few years to a dysfunctional scheme, and painted this really rosey picture of playing for the Giants, as if going from Washington to New York was like going from night to day. The only problem is that the Redskins defense has been really good the past few years, while the Giants D is absolutely horrendous this year – it’s more like LaVar’s going from day to night. It didn’t make much sense.

Nevertheless, I still refuse to believe that the guy is completely washed-up, as some people would have you believe. There are enough reasons to explain his lack of impact plays to this point so that it would be unfair to write him off: He’s in a new scheme, he didn’t work out much in preseason, and we’ve been playing good offenses. I know Giants fans are the last people that want to hear this, but it’s early yet. It’s not unreasonable to hope that he can still be a big contributor.

 

Bob writes:

There is a serious issue with the lack of pressure from the defensive line and I agree with your comments about the defensive coaching. There was also a serious problem with the offensive line. Special teams have also disappointed (and I am concerned about Feeley whose kicks all seem to curve left (even on extra points)). All of which leads one to wonder about the quality of the overall coaching before a big game–Carolina comes to mind, except this is a healthier and better team. The team was flat for over three quarters and there is no excuse for that.

Bob:

Agreed completely. Even the Colts game involved us digging a hole for ourselves that we didn’t really have time to dig out of. If you count that, it makes four straight games that the Giants have come out flat. Unacceptable.

It’s tough to explain the Giants early-game shittiness. “Flat” is a word that is frequently used, but I’m not sure this really captures it. “Flat” implies a lack of effort, but I don’t think the Giants awful play is for lack of effort. If anything, it looks like they’re too tight, like they’re thinking too much, and only when they relax and settle into the game are they capable of doing anything.

That’s why I think we should go to the no-huddle more often. This offense is so talented that it is capable of getting into rhythms where it’s unstoppable. Really, the only thing that can stop the Giants O is itself. With a no-huddle, we can capitalize on our rhythms and convert them into points. It would address what I see as a general underachieving offense.

Re: Feely: You wrote this after the Philly game, but you had to like him drilling that 47-yarder against the Seahawks. Of course it was completely insignificant, but can you imagine how bad it would have been if he missed that one? In it’s own way, it was a clutch field goal.

 

Dan writes:

Coaching is certainly a question mark in light of many things, most critically on defense and the team’s utter lack of discipline. Frankly, I hold the defense responsible for the team-wide nap that was taken during the first three quarters of the game. It is no secret that our offensive line is a (if not the most) critical element to the Giants’ success this season. In fact, this has held true every season and I think this is a common factor for most every other team in the NFL. It is also no secret that our offensive line has the capability of being erratic, undisciplined, injured or just plain shitty, especially when the pressure is on.

With all of this said, our defense is far too good (at least on paper) to perform the way that have over the last two weeks. While our offense came out with a very strong first drive, our defense (who I think needs to serve as the emotional anchor of our team–a classic Giants’ trait) didn’t come out at all, allowing the Eagles to walk all over them. Unfortunately, our offense is psychologically fragile enough that an inexcusably piss-poor performance on the part of defense can derail everything. The defense deflated our offense.

Dan:

I think you were a little harsh on the offensive line. Granted, it was horrible against Philly, but it was pretty decent for the other two games. The offense played well in the Colts game, and the problem in the Seahawks game was 1) the defense; and 2) the turnovers, which didn’t really have anything to do with the O-Line.

And last year, the O-Line was actually very good. The Giants ranked 8th in the NFL in Adjusted Sack Rate, the FootballOutsiders stat that measures sacks per pass play, and adjusts for opponent. That’s with Eli, a young, not especially mobile quarterback at the helm. (Not to mention the O-Line has Tiki’s 1,860 yard year to its credit. Granted, many of Tiki’s yards come out in space, away from the line, but a line that blocked for the best rushing season in team history can’t be that bad.)

Your point about our offense being psychologically fragile is well-taken. It always seems like we’re tripping over ourselves on O, and that we’re always struggling to get into a rhythm that will allow us to unleash the awesome talent that we have. Of course, if the defense continues to stink up the joint, and we can’t stop committing stupid penalties, it’s a moot point.

Ok, I haven’t even looked at the newspapers since Sunday, but it’s been long enough.  Here we go:

  • Only three false starts on Sunday, but as Lisa Kennelly points out, they all came in the first quarter and were all costly at the time.  And there wasn’t really anything of consequence in that game after the first quarter, so…
  • There was some unbelievably bad play in the defensive backfield Sunday, and Mike Garafolo points out the obvious.  Frankly, I don’t know what’s worse: the pass rush or the secondary.  Either way, each one’s awfulness is reinforcing the other’s.  It wasn’t supposed to be this way: An outstanding pass rush was supposed to bail out an average secondary, and our pass defense was supposed to be above average.
  • Also in this article, Colonel Tom fires back at those who would say that it was the scheme, and not the way the scheme was executed: “Our pass coverage was practically non-existent….  The scheme was fine, but the individuals playing the scheme…we’ve got to get better with regard to that.â€? 
  • Or maybe not.  In this article, Colonel Tom blames the defensive scheme, but then says, “If you want to point the blame, point it right at me.â€?  But as Mike Garafolo writes, “Only one problem.  Coughlin is primarily an offensive coach and doesn’t design the defensive schemes.  Coordinator Tim Lewis is responsible.â€?  Indeed.  Coughlin makes mention of “those obvious, wide open seam balls.â€?  If you forget some of these, let me refresh your memory:
  • 1) Hasselbeck’s 12-yard TD pass to Burrelson, where it looked like Madison pass the coverage off to safety help (Demps), which didn’t come even remotely close to getting there.
  • 2) The 4-yard TD pass to Jackson that followed.  Remember this one?  Aikman mentioned that it was Hasselbeck’s third read, and that the pass-rush was primarily to blame for letting him calmly go through his reads like that.  True, but that doesn’t nullify the fact that Jackson planted himself in the middle of the endzone with nary a Giant within five yards of him.
  • 3) The 10-yard pass to Will Heller that made the game 28-0 and officially out of reach.  This was the one where R.W. completely let the guy get to the spot – he noticed him run by him, he just didn’t play him.  Very strange.  Troy Aikman talked about his “poor outside techniqueâ€? on this one.
  • 4) The pass where Engram caught it and then rolled into the endzone, which was emblematic of the entire afternoon: Shockingly, there wasn’t a Giant in sight, and when they finally got there, they gave an embarrassingly piss-poor effort.  But anyway, Engram looked like he was R.W.’s man on that play.
  • I haven’t been reading since Sunday, so I haven’t really seen the response to the Shockey stuff, but apparently, O’Hara called him out pretty good.  So did Petitgout.  As for the defense, Pierce, the proud leader, is clearly embarrassed and enraged: “We’re not (a postseason contender).  Right now, we’re a horrible 1-2 team, and that’s a fact.â€?  (Speaking of Pierce, two people have pointed out that he’s a total Keith from “Six Feet Under.â€?  I agree, but I think that Keith from “Six Feet Underâ€? is actually a much bigger Mike Jarvis.  By the way, have you noticed that Will Peterson is the biggest Robinson Cano is the biggest Trevor Ariza?) 
  • The Giants have to “man up,â€? says Sam Madison in Ernie Palladino’s piece.  Oh, and if Plaxico wasn’t actually benched for his poor play, he should have been.  The dropped pass, the fumble – which was exactly the same as the one he had last week – and the blatantly obvious push-off had nothing to do with his back.
  • Speaking of Plax, Michael David Smith rips into him in his “Overrated Player of the Weekâ€? piece (Thanks to Oakland Raiders fan and NYGMen reader Seth Werkheiser for the tip!).  It’s the second time he’s ripped a high-priced G-Man in the last week.  I think he’s a little harsh in his assessment.  Plax might be a bit of a space cadet, but I’m not willing to say that he doesn’t play hard.  I mean, he’s an excellent blocker.  Plus, he fits into the category of guys with long, effortless strides that always seem to not be hustling as much as they are.
  • Speaking of Plax’s long strides, Troy Aikman made a really good point on this matter, saying that the way he runs is not conducive to getting separation on shorter out patterns (this was after the push-off), and that his speed kicks in more as he gets downfield. 
  • Carlos Emmons strained his pec again.  Yes, it was the pec that cost him the better part of last season.  This guy is hurt much more often than he’s healthy.  Let’s get Gerris Wilkinson in this piece.
  • Here’s a Palladino piece on Shockey’s apology, which was of the “I didn’t mean to bring any distractionsâ€? variety, as opposed to the “I should have never undermined the coach.â€?  Coughlin’s reaction is disappointing as well: “I’m surprised…  It’s disappointing.  What can I tell you?â€?  You see, what he should have said was, “That’s the last time I’m taking any shit from any one of these players.  I’m the coach, and anyone who has anything to me had better say it to my face, behind closed doors.â€?
  • Granted, I’ve pretty old-school/conservative on the question of a coach’s authority, which isn’t exactly in keeping with my personality.  But to me, it’s like Chris Rock says about politics.  He’s not a “Democratâ€? or a “Republican.â€?  He chooses his positions issue by issue.  “Conservative on crime, liberal on prostitution,â€? he says. 
  • But anyway, I feel that football is unique in that it mandates a very strict chain of command, from the head coach on down.  To undermine the head coach is to threaten that chain of command and with it, threaten the fragile balance that keeps 52 exceptionally talented guys – most of them who probably have well-earned huge egos – both risking and busting their asses for an organization that doesn’t even compensate them that well, at least relative to other pro athletes.  Taking a public shot at the coach really opens up a pandora’s box.  So it’s not like I’m taking Colonel Tom’s “sideâ€? in this matter, or even necessarily saying that I disagree with what Shockey said.  I’m merely saying that he should never have said it, and that as a player, he has no right to say it.  And he should apologize more than that “I’m sorry if my words offended anybodyâ€? bullshit.
  • I, on the other hand, am not one of those 52 exceptionally talented guys, and from my lofty perch as a blogger, I say we should run more of the no-huddle offense.  My rationalle?  Eli is so obviously a guy that needs to get into a rhythm.  When is he most successful?  In the two-minute offense, or when he’s mounting a massive comeback.  Get and keep him in a rhythm and he is awesome.  There’s no reason we shouldn’t see this quality as an asset and at least be open to taking advantage of it.
  • Ralph Vacchiano writes a really good piece in his blog about the whole “out-coachedâ€? thing.  Disturbingly, the team’s dissatisfaction with the coaching staff has been a recurring thing.  The grumblings began after last year’s 16-13 loss to Dallas.
  • This is probably the most intelligent thing I’ve read about the Giants all year.  Allen Barra takes Coughlin to task based on the evidence.  Did you know that we’ve had more penalties than our opposition in 16 of the last 19 games?  That’s really insane.  And seriously, what’s the deal with the pass rush?  As Barra writes, “[Getting sacked nine times and having only two sacks] alone would indicate a losing team even if everything else was going right.  And everything else is not going right.â€?  (That said, I’m not throwing in the towel on Colonel Tom.  It’s reached a critical point, yes, but this team will right the ship.)
  • Barra also goes out of his way to give kudos to Eli Manning, which I agree with wholeheartedly.  “Let’s be clear on this,â€? he writes.  “Eli Manning is about the only thing on this team going right.â€?
  • Tim Lewis finally speaks up in what John Branch calls “a case of unfortunate timingâ€? for him: by Coughlin’s autocratic rules, coordinators are only allowed to address the media three times a year, and during the bye week is one of those times.  He indicated that changes were in store, which is obviously a good thing: “Coach Cowher always used to say, ‘If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.’  We don’t want to get any more of this, so we’ve got to do something differently, no doubt.â€?

I.

At around 7:30 last night, when any illusions about another miracle comeback had vanished, I recalled an incident from my sophomore year of high school. Our baseball team, which was a mediocre, underachieving bunch at the time, showed up to a key Saturday game and turned in a performance as unconscionably listless as the Giants’ on Sunday.

After the game, our coach made us sit on the metal bleachers while he exchanged courtesies with the opposing coach and packed up his stuff. We sat there and waited as the fear built up – nobody said a word. Some of the guys had obviously come in hung over. Some had come in sleepy. Some just didn’t want to be there. Some had actually played hard, but poorly. Now we were paying the price, as we contemplated the torrent of abuse that would surely rain down on us. The coach walked toward us.

“I’m not gonna yell at you,” he began. It was pretty clear what he was trying to do with this one. It’s the old “Coach walking out of practice move.” The team is supposed to feel so ashamed at their performance that the harshest words are no words – you are just left to contemplate your shittiness. The silent contemplation of the disgraceful effort was supposed to send us into a weekend of shame and soul-searching, which would ultimately lead to more urgent play the next week.

Nobody said anything – we knew what he was doing and were perfectly happy to play along. Perhaps too happy, because it couldn’t have been two seconds after the words left his lips that he realized that he had overestimated us.

“Fuck that,” he declared, and the wrath was loosed upon us.

 

II.

It’s the obvious thing to ask, but it bears repeating. It’s really the only thing there is to say. What the fuck? What the fuck is the matter with this team?

I don’t mean to get all Mike Francesa here, but sometimes the guy hits it on the head. To give that kind of showing in that kind of spot it disgraceful. Even if you exclude the Colts game – which I’m not sure should be excluded – that three out of the last four big games that we’ve gone out and showed absolutely nothing.

The Carolina game. The Philly game. And now this one? To quote Karen Hill’s mother in Goodfellas, “What kind of people are these?” Indeed, what kind of a team is this?

After the Carolina game I gave them a break. They were injured on defense and things went bad from the start. It was an awful end to a good season, but horrible games happen.

After the Philly game I tried to let it go. I tried to convince myself that the comeback said more about the character of this team than the hole they dug. “Giant pride,” right?

But now this. 42-3 in the third quarter. There are no more excuses. Something is seriously wrong with this team

 

III.

That said, Jeremy Shockey has no right to bury Coughlin like he did. The way to instill the urgency and discipline that this team lacks is not to humiliate the coach in public; doing so is just another step in the wrong direction.

Besides, for however bad things are, the fact is that it’s still the third game after a playoff season. Shockey was way out of line in opening up the can of worms of questioning the coach. To paraphrase Otter in Animal House, “Only we, the fans, can do that to our coaches.”

I’ve always liked Colonel Tom and I have defended him at every possible turn, but after yesterday, I would be ridiculous if I didn’t have my doubts. The point has been made plenty of times now, but how ironic is it that Colonel Tom, the guy that was supposed to instill discipline into the sloppy atmosphere that characterized the late Fassel regine, is entirely too soft on these guys.

First, Tiki calls him out after the Carolina game. Then Shockey, Burress, Joseph et al don’t show up for minicamp. Then Shockey calls him an ass. Then Plax says publicly that he should loosen up, as if Plax should have any say in the matter. Then they come out like they have in the last couple of games, and now Colonel Tom is supposed to take this from Shockey?

No. Fortunately, the situation was addressed. Colonel Tom did the right thing by not taking this public, but it seems like most of the players had his back. Even Eli called Shockey’s comments “unacceptable.” Whatever anyone’s problem with Coughlin is, he’s the coach. There’s no way this season is going to be successful if guys start ripping the coach this early on.

Either way, as they head into the bye week, the Giants season has reached a critical point.

Watching Arrington on every play of the Giants victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday showed that he doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing in pass coverage, has lost that blend of speed and power that once made him a terror as a pass rusher, and generally looks washed up at the age of 28.

Yeesh. He then proceeds to spend the whole article detailing LaVar’s every mistake: blown coverages, getting absorbed by blockers, ineffectual pass rushes, and general lackluster play. Is it the knee? Is it his discomfort in Tim Lewis’ read and react system? Either way, Smith has all but written LaVar off after two games with the Giants: “Unless he improves dramatically as this season wears on, he shouldn’t be back with the Giants next year.”

It’s certainly not good that this was the assessment of a guy who watched LaVar on every single play of that game, but let’s not forget, this is LaVar’s second game in an unfamiliar system and he is still getting his bearings after the many knee problems. At this point, I’m gonna give it more time before declaring that his incredible athleticism has just upped and vanished. And as comment #43 points out (yes, you have to scroll down that far to find someone who isn’t eating up the LaVar bashing), because the Giants haven’t blitzed much this year, LaVar hasn’t gotten the chance to showcase his best attribute.

Also, I have since seen one of the plays that Smith describes – when he supposedly “pulls up” and lets Madison do the tackling – and completely disagree with his assessment. He pulled up to cut off the cutback option, not because he wasn’t hustling. So there.

Keep Smith’s points in mind, but I’d like to think that the rumors of LaVar’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Either way, it’s certainly an article worth reading.

  • Here’s my recap of last year’s painful loss in Seattle. It’s long, so if you’re going to read it, I suggest printing it out. As terrible of a loss as that was, however, this is pretty funny.
  • Ok, so we’ve seen this one a hundred times in the past couple of days, but it doesn’t really get old.
  • “There’s some teaching examples in those first three phases in all quarters,” says Tom Coughlin. Ernie Palladino hits the nail on the head in this article. It’s “teaching” if you win; it’s “tearing someone a new one” if you lose.
  • Palladino on Trent Cole’s nad-kick (apparently, McKenzie was trying to help Cole up), Gibril Wilson’s big game (Gibril made that stop on Buckhalter on 4th and 1, although Pierce deserves credit for busting that play up), the Akers incident on the opening kickoff, and the injury situation (which includes James Butler’s sprained MCL and Shockey’s chronic ankle problem. Hopefully, he plays this week, doesn’t do any further damage, and rests over the bye week.)
  • Mike Garafolo on Shockey’s ankle injury. Colonel Tom said that Shockey was in the same amount of pain last week, but came back to play. I didn’t know this, but apparently Shockey was playing through a broken sternum and a separated shoulder last season. Also, the O-Line was embarrassed about their performance, but as Dave Diehl says, “You can always make corrections. You can’t correct a loss.” And Chad Morton had cramps, which is why R.W. replaced him returning punts. Morton hasn’t looked good so far though – will we come to regret cutting Willie Ponder?
  • Good item in Garafolo’s mailbag. You have to scroll down a bit to see it, but he says that, according to some Giants defensive players he talked to, the offenses that the Giants have faced have dictated a less aggressive approach, which has made it more difficult for LaVar Arrington to have an impact. While I take issue with Lewis’ scheming against the Eagles, it’s good to know that there’s at least a reason that LaVar’s been quiet. Garafolo says that it some games, he’ll be blitzing practically every down. That should be fun.
  • Garafolo on the Akers brawl. Akers says that he was pushed into Way, and that it wasn’t really his fault. I tend to agree with him here. Jacobs pushed him in the back, and Akers had to brace himself for the contact with Way. Great job by the Giants lumping him though.
  • The G-Men are exhausted but feeling good. Here’s the Strahan quote that’s been in all the papers: “It almost feels better than if we had gone in there and blown them out. And to be honest with you, this team at this point needed something to bring us together, and maybe this is what we needed. There seems to be a lot more togetherness in a struggle than when things are going well.” Amen.
  • Tremendous call by Michael Waxenberg on the Big Blue Blog:

The reality is that the Giants’ offensive line is more adept at run-blocking than pass protection. When an opponent builds a lead and stuffs the run – as Philly did against a bruised and tentative Tiki Barber – the line will struggle. Nobody is more adept at managing that snowball effect than Jim Johnson. The Eagle DC scripted a brilliant gameplan, denying Tiki his first cut and badgering Eli Manning relentlessly. Yet the Giants hung 30 points on his defense, who looked completely gassed at the end, and won the game. That’s a pretty good silver lining.

  • That Eli is one cool cat, writes John Branch. Kareem McKenzie on Eli: “He’s exactly how he seems. He just takes things in stride.” And Plax on the Easy Man: “You can never really get him flustered. That’s what I like about him.” Eli’s completion percentage this year: 66.2. Now we just have to protect him.
  • Good piece by David Picker in the Times about penalties, and how players pretty much get away with whatever they can. Bob Whitfield, for instance, “said he often grabbed an opponent’s limb or finger and pulled as if it were a drumstick on a turkey.” Yeesh. Chris Snee was candid, saying, “I hold when I can. Just don’t make it that obvious. I mean, you’re not going against amateurs.”
  • Vinny DiTrani with a short, on-point report card of all the Giants units against the Eagles. The rush-defense stepped up big in the second half, and Andy Reed compounded the problem for his team by staying conservative.
  • Everyone loves Well Dressed Amani Toomer. He was so exhausted from the game that he collapsed on the last play with cramps and needed to be carried off the field — it took four IV bags to get him normal again.
  • The Giants D needs to clean it up. Colonel Tom’s assessment: “It’s really not doing their jobs. If you look at one play, you’ll have someone out of position, or someone not involved in the coverage the way he’s supposed to be, or the pass rush not taking place where it’s supposed to be.” (Gotta love Colonel Tom’s grammar.)
  • Excellent blogging by Ralph Vacchiano. He points to some areas of concern (pass rush, secondary, pass protection, penalties) and then, in a previous post, looks at some of the game’s many key plays. He also makes a very necessary point about the media coverage of Eli:

How many times is Eli Manning going to “grow up,” or “come of age?” Can we all just please just agree that he’s a very talented young quarterback, capable of brilliant games and capable of mind-numbing interceptions? Not every bad throw is a regression and not every 300-yard game is a coming out party.

I

That was the most improbable Giants win I have ever seen. We’ve all seen our share of improbable losses – the Vikings playoff game in ’97, the not-talked about but gut-wrenching loss at home to the Titans in 2002 (which preceded our running the table over the last four games), the Niners playoff game in 2002 – and it sure is nice to be on the other side.

We certainly know how the Eagles and their fans feel. It’s the same old script, but with the roles reversed for the G-Men:

You completely dominate the better part of the action. It’s not even close, as severe an ass-whopping as you could put on another team. Everything is too good to be true, but the scoreboard doesn’t quite reflect how much you’ve dominated. But whatever, the clock is ticking down, and you sit on the lead a little bit. Maybe you get a little complacent. Maybe the other team catches a break, in this case the Holy Roller II, courtesy of Tim Carter. And then the dominoes start falling, one after another, impossible to stop because you’ve already turned the switch off. The magic that carried you to your lead is lost. Actually, it’s not lost, it’s firmly in the possession of the other team, who can all of a sudden do no wrong. How stupid you feel – this other team wasn’t quite as bad as you were thinking at the beginning of the game, and your team wasn’t quite as good. But either way, it would still take an extraordinary amount of things to go wrong between now and triple zeroes – you should still survive this game. Take it as a lesson. Get your shit together for the next game, and don’t sit on leads. But the dominoes keep falling, and you still can’t catch a break, and when it’s finally over, the other team is celebrating and your stadium is stunned and silent. A dismal Sunday.

Man, it feels good to do this to the Eagles and their fans.

II

Needless to say, thank God we pulled this one out. It would have been pretty disastrous to be heading to Seattle at 0-2 while the 2-0 Eagles went to San Francisco. We wouldn’t have been done if we had lost this game, but if we had lost next week after losing this one, we would have been. Our season would have been over before it had begun, and that would have really, really sucked.

But now, with what might be the two toughest games on the schedule cleared, we’re tied for first place. Losing next week is still a possibility and we’d obviously rather win, but losing wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. We’d head into our bye week a game out of first, but with the opportunity to regroup and make things right. And if we win next week, we’re right on track, something that would have seemed like a pipe dream with 10 minutes left in the third quarter of this one.

III

One minute into the fourth quarter of a long afternoon, the Giants caught a huge break when Tim Carter recovered Plaxico’s fumble in the endzone for a touchdown. It was practically the first lucky break that we had caught in a year where nothing had gone our way. But it wouldn’t be the last. Between then and the end of the game, we benefited from more than our fare share of significant breaks. If even one of the following things hadn’t happened, our chances of winning the game would have been significantly reduced.

–The Eagles had the ball at their 32 with 4:22 left in the game. Still up by 10, all they had to do was get a couple of first downs and run out the clock. With a two possession lead, the one thing they couldn’t do was give the Giants a turnover and the chance to quickly shave one of the scores off. But Brian Westbrook did just that, coughing up the rock while going down to the ground. The Giants recovered and scored a few plays later when Eli hit Toomer on a beautiful touchdown pass, and the comeback continued.

–With 15 seconds left in regulation and the Giants down by three, Eli Manning hit Jeremy Shockey for eight yards, and Shockey was able to get out of bounds. We were left on the Eagles 32 with 10 seconds left and no timeouts, which would have meant a Jay Feely 49-yard field goal attempt. Feely was 0-1 from field goals over 40 yards in the preseason and missed a 40-yarder against the Colts. Did any Giant fan feel confident in his ability to knock through a 50-yard game-winning field goal?

Fortunately, Trent Cole, who had otherwise played a great game as a pass-rushing specialist, pulled a boneheaded move by kicking Kareem McKenzie, drawing a 15-yard personal foul and setting Feely up for an eminently makeable 35-yarder. Feely knocked it through and we were heading to overtime.

–Onto overtime, where after picking up a first down and committing yet another false start, the Giants faced a 1st and 15 from their own 42. Eli Manning went back to pass, and for the eighth time of the game, he was sacked. For the second time, he fumbled. But for the fourth time, the Giants pounced on a fumble. Of the game’s four fumbles, the Giants recovered them all. This is extraordinary lucky; as the guys at FootballOutsiders point out, fumble recoveries are completely random. Had the Eagles recovered this particular fumble, they would have taken possession at the Giants 34. In all probability, we would have been done.

–We wound up punting a few plays later, but a bad punt and bad coverage gave the Eagles possession on their own 44. On third down of that series, McNabb went back and threw a strike downfield to LJ Smith, who, for his part, saw the ball clang off his hands. I’m not exactly sure where Smith was – I think it was somewhere between the Giants 40 and 30 – but if he makes that catch… we’re probably done. This wasn’t the only Philly drop – I’m just guessing, but I would say that dropped about eight passes throughout the game, another bit of luck – but it was the biggest.

–So we had the ball back and we started moving. On a 2nd and 10 from our own 45, Eli threw a ball on which Vishante Shiancoe and Brian Dawkins converged at the same time. From the replays, it looked like Dawkins had more of a claim on that ball than Shiancoe. The announcers called it “joint possession,” which would mean Giants ball, but I thought Dawkins pretty much had it firmly wrapped while Shiancoe only had one arm on it. I think it should have been a pick, but it wasn’t, and the drive marched on.

(It should be noted, though, that the Giants were victimized by a similar call earlier in the game. Sam Madison made a really nice leap on a corner-fade pass to Donte Stallworth, and pretty much the same thing happened. Both guys had a claim on the ball, but Madison had a better one. The refs wound up compromising and calling the play an incomplete pass [which, whatever the play was, was not that]. The Eagles scored a few plays later.)

–And finally, this isn’t exactly “luck” like these other breaks were, but let’s not forget how… fortunate we were that Plaxico came down with Eli’s fling on the last play. It was 3rd and 11 from the 31 yard line, so had that pass gone incomplete, Jay Feely would have been brought in for the 49-yard field goal. What a game.

IV

Some other huge, late-game plays that we shouldn’t forget:

–With 1:56 left in the 4 quarter, the Eagles faced a 3rd and 12. McNabb hit his fullback, Thomas Tapeh, in the flat. Tapeh turned up field and had only Sam Madison between him and a game-clinching first down, but Madison made a huge open-field tackle on a man who outweighed him by 63 pounds to keep the Giants hopes alive.

–With 35 seconds left in regulation, we had 1st and 10 at our own 35, with no timeouts. Eli dropped back but was forced to step up in the pocket from outside pressure. A defensive tackle got his arms around him and all but swallowed him up, but Eli flung one downfield for Tim Carter, who came back and made a big 22 yard catch. After spiking the ball, we picked up eight more yards when Eli hit a gimpy Shockey, who was able to get out of bounds. The personal foul on Cole followed, and Feely was set up for the 35-yard, game-tying field goal.

V

A miracle it was, but let’s not forget that the majority of this game consisted of the Eagles kicking our asses all over the field. I have a problem with the way Tim Lewis called this game. McNabb had all kinds of time in the pocket, and was able to pick our defense apart for the better part of the game.

After a while it was clear that the front four wasn’t even coming close to getting it done. Whenever they got near McNabb, he was able to dance around the pocket and buy more time for himself, as he is wont to do. But with the exception of an unsuccessful LaVar Arrington blitz – it was another quiet game from Mr. Nickles – we stubbornly insisted on only sending our front four for the first three quarters. (There were probably a couple more blitzes that I missed, but still.) I’m sure I was not alone in screaming at the TV as the Eagles effortlessly took it down on us one possession after another. Why didn’t we at least try to make something happen? Things couldn’t have been any worse than they were!

VI

The penalties. At least now the whole thing is completely out in the open. In this game we committed nine penalties for 75 yards. The two most egregious came at the very end of the game.

–Tim Carter’s holding on the Brandon Jacobs run in overtime that pushed us back from, like, the 10 to the 25.

–The Shawn O’Hara false start that pushed us all the way back to the 31, creating the situation where we needed the Eli-to-Plax heave. These two penalties were completely ridiculous.

We also had numerous false starts, a delay of game, and a Chris Snee personal foul. Anybody who is reading this blog probably watched the telecast, and anybody who watched the telecast heard Aikman and Buck just completely rip the Giants for their sloppiness – Buck called them “flat-out undisciplined” at one point – but it bears mentioning again: What the hell is the deal with the penalties? In case you missed it, the Giants are the third most penalized team in the NFL in the time since Coughlin took over – only the Raiders and the Cardinals have been worse. This is completely unacceptable, and has to get better.

VII

So do the special teams. I don’t have stats on this, but our coverage and return teams are not doing the job this year. Feagles has been very good though. So what’s the deal with R.W. and Morton? It seemed that R.W. replaced him at one point, but then Morton went back. We’ll find out more this week, I’m sure.

VIII

Some other observations:

Madison had a really rough time out there. I’m not sure, but I think they switched Webster over to Stallworth for the second half. On Stallworth’s touchdown pass, what was Madison doing in press coverage with no safety help?

–It’s hard to kill Webster for getting beaten by Reggie Brown. Those things happen, although we Giants fans would prefer if those things happened less frequently than during the Will Allen years.

–Westbrook ran roughshod over us in the first half, but we stopped him in the second. It seemed like a lot of counters. My friend Wong speculated that our tackles were getting blown off the ball in the first half. The outside linebackers didn’t seem to do the best job of keeping contain.

The O-Line stepped up big late in the game. Credit these guys for bouncing back, but God, they looked awful for a lot of the game. Especially McKenzie, who had a really rough time with Jevon Kearse. McKenzie is going to need help with speed-rushers.

–The protection was bad, but Eli seemed really lead-footed and tentative in the pocket. There were a couple of sacks in the early going that he all but walked into, something that really stood out after watching Peyton last week and McNabb this week. Those two throws to Burress off his back foot were also concerning – we’re lucky those didn’t get picked off.

But no, I’m not actually gonna sit here and criticize Eli. He went 31/43 for 371 yards, and led us on some gut-check drives that we’ll never forget. We’ll see this point made around 2,000 times this week, but you only wish that he could flip that switch before the last possible moment. Either way, ya gotta love it.

Amani Toomer. Just when you’ve forgotten about him, he comes back with a game like today. He’s gotten really good at finding soft spots in the zone. And he’s so smooth, and so good at dragging his feet.

Plax looked good, and that last play was up there in any discussion of great Giants plays. I love how he chucked the ball into the crowd, ripped off his helmet, pumped his fist, and just started barking at those fans. Incredible. But the way he carries the ball has to be addressed. My brother Harv made the point that it’s pretty ridiculous that Colonel Tom and co. haven’t taken care of this – every time he makes moves with the ball out there, millions of Giants fans hold there breath.

Tiki wasn’t getting holes for much of the game, but credit him for persevering and contributing a lot at the end.

Jacobs continues to impress – the guy’s running with authority. Very exciting.

Shockey injured? Again? It’s gonna be like this all year. Again.

–I almost forgot, but the defensive game-ball goes to Gibril Wilson. He was everywhere.

After boasting the sixth best offense in 2004 with a DVOA of 14.8%, the Eagles offense slipped badly in 2005, finishing 22nd in the league with a -9.2% DVOA. (Don’t know what DVOA is?  Click here and scroll down a bit.) The reasons for Philly’s offensive collapse are obvious enough: Terrell Owens’ antics caused dissention, sapped morale, and disrupted strategy; Donovan McNabb missed almost half the season, and was replaced by Mike McMahon. McNabb wasn’t great when he played last year, but McMahon was much, much worse (-36% DVOA. 45.9% completion percentage, 5 TDs, 8 INTs); and Brian Westbrook missed the last five games, of which the Eagles lost four en route to a 6-10 collapse.

Call it the Curse of the Runner-Up. Since the Giants finished a disappointing 7-9 in 2001 (when the Eagles mini-dynasty in the NFC East began), the loser of the Super Bowl has missed the playoffs the next year.

But this year, there is no reason to believe that the Eagles won’t be back among the better, if not elite, teams in the league. Getting McNabb and Westbrook back is huge. Getting T.O. as far away as possible is huge. As Pro Football Prospectus’ Mike Tanier writes, “The Eagles will be good this season; prognasticators calling for another 6-10 season clearly think that McNabb and Westbrook add up to zero wins.”

Also consider the addition of Donte Stallworth, the development of Reggie Brown, the return to health by an offensive line that was mix-and-match at times last season, and the Eagles offense should be at least above average. And their defense, despite the lost season, was actually pretty good, finishing with a -4.6% DVOA.

Yes, the Giants should have their hands full. Let’s not forget that the Giants had a tough time against the Eagles last year, battling them for an ugly win in New York and eeking a tough one out in Philly.

Offense:

Quarterback: Even before the injury last year, McNabb had taken a step-back from 2004, when he finished with 5th among quarterbacks with a 35.8% DVOA. But last year, his DVOA slipped to around league average, his completion percentage dipped from 64.0% to 59.1%, and his yards per attempt went from 7.3 to 6.1.

McNabb’s drop-off was due in no small part to the T.O. soap opera and the instability at wide receiver. But after a lost 2005, early indications are that McNabb – in a more stable situation and surrounded by a much better receiver corps — should be back among the league’s better quarterbacks and a thorn in the Giants side. Last week against the Texans, he went 24-35 (68.5%) for 314 yards, or around 10 yards per attempt. Granted, he posted these numbers against a truly awful pass defense, but still… And the Giants haven’t beaten him since the 2000 playoffs.

In terms of strategy, I’ve always thought that McNabb needs to be blitzed. He’s so adept at dancing around the pass rush of a few defensive linemen that he can have all day to improvise and make plays if we don’t blitz him. LaVar needs to make some big plays this game.

In Andy Reid’s West Coast Offense, the Eagles like to pass the ball, and do 66% of the time, 2nd highest in the league.

Wide Receivers: During the offseason, Eagle fans were clamoring for their team to sign Eric Moulds. They smartly didn’t overpay for the overrated Moulds like the Texans did, and were rewarded by having the much faster, younger, and more talented Donte Stallworth fall into their lap.

He teams with Reggie Brown, another up-and-comer who had an encouraging ending to last year, to give the Eagles a very solid receiving corps. Compare this year’s situation to last year’s, when the Eagles were force-feeding an unprepared Brown and pretending that Greg Lewis was a starting caliber guy. This year, Lewis is back to working out of the slot, where he’s at least respectable.

L.J. Smith mans the tight end spot. He’s a good, quick receiver but a bad blocker. Coming off his best season last year where he became, by default, Mike McMahon’s favorite target, he could either develop into one of the league’s better receiving tight ends or slip into one-dimensional mediocrity. Either way, he rounds out a competent Eagles receiving corps. They’re not great, but they’re certainly an asset to a team that struggled to come up with adequate receivers in the early part of the decade.

Running Back: Brian Westbrook (5-8, 203) missed the last five games of last year, and the Eagles lost four of them. By now, we all know what Westbrook can do: He’s a quick, explosive runner who can break big plays from any spot on the field, including as a slot receiver, where he creates match-up nightmares with linebackers and safeties. Westbrook is small but he can sure get outside and turn the corner. The pressure is on Arrington, Emmons and the two ends and the corners to keep him from getting outside. Last week, the Giants looked slightly vulnerable stopping the outside run in the second half.

Because of their big offensive line, the Eagles are a good short-yardage team. Even last year, they finished 11 in the league in FootballOutsiders’ “Power” stat, which measures how an offense performs in short-yardage and goal line situations.

Offensive Line: One of many units last year for which injuries took a toll. Center Hank Fraley went down for the year with a shoulder injury in week 9. Right Tackle Tra Thomas – who now apparently prefers to be called William – had surgery on his lumbar disc in November, and his replacement, Todd Herremans, fractured his ankle shortly after stepping into the lineup. But this year, with the return of some guys and the development of others, the line should go from a weakness to a strength.

LT: Tra Thomas: 6-7, 335 – huge, and an excellent pass protector. He has never allowed a sack against Osi – last year’s big sack/forced fumble in Philly came when Thomas was injured.

LG: Todd Herremans: 6-6, 321 — a second-year guy who showed some promise before fracturing his lower leg. Not bad, but merely adequate.

C: Jamaal Jackson: — stepping in for Hank Fraley, who was traded to the Browns. Although he has started only 8 NFL games, the fact that they traded Fraley shows that they were confident in Jackson, as does their recent signing Jackson to a 5 year, $13 million deal.

RG: Shawn Andrews: 6-4, 340 – 1st round pick in 2004, and a huge mauler of a run-blocker. One of the better guards in the league.

RT: Jon Runyan: 6-7, 330 – big, nasty dude with a mean streak and hairy upper arms. But Strahan has historically owned this guy. He’s racked up 5 sacks in their last 5 meetings, and 13.5 sacks in the 12 games he’s faced Runyan. Unfortunately, we found out this week that these two old adversaries are friends. Dissapointing.

 

Defense:

Despite seeing the wheels of their season blow off, the Eagles defense actually improved from their Super Bowl year to last year (from -2.2% DVOA, 16th in the league to -4.6 DVOA, 14th in the league).

Giants fans know the M.O. of Jimmy Johnson’s defense: They like to blitz. Last year, the 22% of the Eagles sacks came from their defensive backs – a figure that was the highest in the NFL. Compare that number to the Giants’ 7%, 19th in the league.

The Eagles run-defense is excellent, and the Giants will have a harder time running on them than they did against the Colts. Last year, they finished 7th in the league with a -14.8 DVOA against the run, and they held the Texans to 70 yards on 20 carries last week.

Their pass defense, on the other hand, is not so good, despite their secondary’s stellar reputation. Last year, they finished 24th in the league with a 5.9% DVOA. Much of this was due to the poor pass rush: despite their propensity for blitzing, the Eagles finished 31 in the league in adjusted sack rate, a FootballOutsiders stat that measures sacks per passing plays and adjusts for opponent.

(This is somewhat mystifying: the Eagles supposedly have a good secondary and they blitz a lot, yet they sack the quarterback at a lower rate than all but one team in the league except one and have a below-average pass D. I wish I had a better explanation.)

Ok, onto the units.

Defensive Line: The Eagles feature a very solid defensive tackle rotation of Mike Patterson (6-0, 292, a first round draft pick in 2005, veteran Darwin Walker (6-3, 294), and rookie run-stuffer Broderick Bunkley (6-2, 300). Of the three, Patterson is probably the best, but all three get significant burn.

At the ends, Jevon Kearse (6-4, 265) is not what he used to be, but he’s still a dangerous speed rusher. But after doing an excellent job on Dwight Freeney, Luke Petitgout should be able to contain him. Darren Howard (6-3, 275), the other end, is quick and all-around solid. According to the Sporting News Scouting Guide, he “has sideline-to-sideline range and can make plays on the move.” He was limited by a knee injury last year but recorded 11 sacks in 2004.

Linebackers: Middle backer Jeremiah Trotter (6-1, 262) is the best of their backers and one of the best run-stuffing linebackers in the NFL. At one outside backer is Dahani Jones (6-1, 240), who all of us Giants fans are familiar with. Jones hustles, but he’s not the most physical guy. The other backer is Matt McCoy (5-11, 130), who took the job over from the departed Marc Simonaeu, who the Eagles gave up in the Stallworth trade).

Defensive Backs: For a while now, the strength of the Eagles D has been their outstanding safeties. In Johnson’s scheme, both of these guys attack the line of scrimmage. Both Brian Dawkins (6-0, 210) and Michael Lewis (6-1, 222) are excellent blitzers, sure tacklers, and good pass defenders. Of the two, Dawkins is probably better in pass coverage and Lewis is the better run defender.

The Eagles top corner is Sheldon Brown (5-10, 200), a rising star who plays both the run and the pass well. Although he was made to look extremely silly by Eli Manning and Plaxico Burress last year, this guy is good. But, as usual, the 6-5 Plaxico will enjoy a substantial size advantage. The fast, up-and-coming Roderick Hood (5-11, 196) – starting in place of the injured Lito “Shuffle” Shepherd – is the other corner.

A combination of post-loss depression, sickness, work-down-boggage, and shaky internet has presented the first speed-bump in NYGMen’s young history.  I apologize for the disappearance. 

Check back in on Saturday for an analytical preview of the Eagles game.  In the meantime, check out Flumesday, tales of a New York Jew Shanghaied.

Offense

This will come as no surprise to anyone, but the Colts pass the ball better than any team in the league. Last year, they posted an astonishing passing DVOA (not familiar with DVOA?  Click here and read the “important digression.”) of 45.1%, twelve percentage points higher than the second-best team, the Chiefs, who posted a 32.9% DVOA. This number would have been a little higher had the Colts not wrapped up home-field advantage so early (and seen their shot at an undefeated season evaporate), which led to Jim Sorgi playing the final two regular season games in place of Peyton Manning.

The reasons for the success of the Colts’ passing game are no secret either.

Peyton Manning is the best quarterback that the NFL has seen in a long time. There are people that like Brady, and with good reason, but Manning’s stats are pretty amazing. Last year, he posted a personal DVOA of 41,7%, the best in the league among all position players by a wide margin. Of course, last year was Peyton’s “off-year.” In 2004, he posted the best season a quarterback has ever had, with a DVOA of 62.8%. If you need this translated into conventional statistics, that’s 4,557 yards, a completion percentage of 67.6%, and 49 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions.

(You can talk about post-season failures all you want, but last time I checked, this was game 1 of the regular season. Now, people might say that the Colts’ struggles in the playoffs indicate that they have a tough time against good defenses, and that their awesome stats are a product of beating up on lousy teams.

Well, I checked into this and it turns out the Colts fared pretty well against good defenses last year: The Ravens had the 5th best defense in football last year: The Colts put up 24 points and 340 yards, accumulating a DVOA of 24.6% (Keep in mind that DVOA adjusts for opponents) and cruising to a 24-7 lead.

Jacksonville had the 7th best defense last year. In their first meetings, the Colts only scored 10 points and put up 268 yards, but still posted an above average DVOA of 3.2%. In the next meeting, they figured the Jags’ defense out, rolling to 26 points on 399 yards and a DVOA of 30.5%.

Before the playoff game against Pittsburgh, the Colts pasted the Steelers in the regular season, winning 26-7 and putting up 366 yards for a DVOA of 39.0%. Even in the playoff game, where they were dominated for most of the first half, they still managed to score 18 points and finish with 305 total yards against an elite defense at the top of its game that had schemed them perfectly.)

The receivers are awesome as well. Like the Giants, the Colts are loaded with weapons. Harrison and Wayne are the best tandem in the league. Not to disrespect Webster and Madison, but we lose these match-ups pretty handily. The Colts run a ton of three-receiver sets (83%, and then 3% of the time they run four-receiver sets, which means that almost nine out of ten plays there are at least three receivers on the field) which means that Brandon Stokely, the best slot receiver in the league, is a big part of the offense. His production trailed off last year (he went from 1,077 yards and 10 touchdowns to 543 yards and 1 touchdown) but he remains a potent weapon.

The underrated Dallas Clark rounds out the arsenal. ProFootball Prospectus writes this about him: “In his first year since the departure of Marcus Pollard, Clark played the role of dumpoff outlet, screen pass, third and fourth option, and ‘find a hole in the zone’ quite admirably.” All of these guys could present big problems for us.

The Pittsburgh loss opened the Colts’ offensive line up for a lot of criticism, even from their quarterback. “We had some problems in protection,” said Peyton in his bratty, prima-donna way. But that loss to the Steelers shouldn’t obscure the fact that the Colts, whether it was due to scheme or talent, where the best team at protecting their quarterback last year. Their adjusted sack rate (yes, another footballoutsiders stat. This one is sacks divided by pass plays, adjusted for opponent) or 3.4% ranked 1st in the league.

The middle of the Colts’ line is small, something that bodes well for the Giants’ non-dominant interior defensive line. The two guards, Jake Scott and Ryan Liljia, weigh 295 and 290, respectively. Pro-Bowl center Jeff Saturday weighs 295. According to footballoutsiders’ “Power” statistic, which measures the percentage of short runs on third down, forth down, and goal line situations that can be considered successful, the Colts were the worst in the league.

At tackle, Pro-Bowl alternate Tarik Glenn protects Peyton Manning’s blind side. At 6-5, 332, Glenn is a mountain, but might be vulnerable to the speed-rush of Osi Umenyiora. Ryan Diem is an excellent run-blocking tackle, but is a little more vulnerable in pass-protection. He will be matched up against Strahan. The defensive ends must be very active if we are to have a chance to win this game. The Colts line is good, but between the undersizedness of the guys in the middle and the ponderousness of the tackles, this is a good match-up for the Giants.

Finally, the running backs. Last year, the Colts posted a run DVOA of 8%, good for 8th in the NFL) which pales in comparison to the 45.1% passing DVOA, but shows that the Edgerrin James led-running game was no slouch. In the post-Edgerrin era, the Colts will trot out two small backs: Dominic Rhodes (5-9, 203), and Joseph Addai (5-11, 215). Both are fast and quick, but not particularly physical. They can break big plays (especially Addai, a serious home-run hitter and a receiving threat), but they and the Colts’ small offensive line won’t wear the middle of the Giants defense down, which is probably Big Blue’s biggest concern.

It will be interesting to see how the loss of Edgerrin affects the Colts scheme. Despite Peyton’s awesomeness and their reputation as a pass-happy team, the Colts actually ranked right in the middle of the league (16th) in pass to run ratio, running the ball 45% of the time. This number may be somewhat misleading though. In the first half of games, they ran the ball only 39% of the team, 29th in the league, suggesting that the passing game accumulated big leads and they went with a more ball-control style in the second half.

 

**

 

Defense

On the defensive side of the ball, the Colts return ten starters of a young unit that made huge strides from 2004 to 2005. In 2004, their defensive DVOA was 3.5%, 19th in the league, but it improved to -8.8% last year, good for 8th in the league.

Just like the Giants, the strength of the Colts D is an outstanding pass rush. Despite rarely ever blitzing (only 11% of their sacks last year came from a linebacker, 25th in the league, and they did not get a single sack from a defensive back), the Colts ranked 2nd in the NFL in adjusted sack rate (a football outsiders stat that divides sacks by the number of passing plays by the opposition).

Right DE Dwight Freeney, maybe the best pass rusher in the league, leads the charge. Freeney is explosive, relentless, and plays with excellent leverage. He could potentially be very disruptive, and Luke Petitgout will have his work cut out for him protecting Eli’s blind side.

On the other side, Kareem McKenzie will have a hard time in pass protection against undersized speed-rusher Robert Mathis. McKenzie is 327 lbs and Mathis is 245, something that gives Mathis an advantage on pass plays and McKenzie and advantage on run plays. It will be interesting to see how both teams play this match-up.

The Colts’ defense will have to recover from the loss of David Thornton, who manned the strong side and was their best linebacker. As a group, the Colts LBs are undersized: Gilbert Gardner, Thornton’s replacement at the strong side, weighs 228; Gary Brackett, their middle linebacker, weighs in at 235; and Cato June, their weak side backer, weighs 227. They are small, but they are quick and good in pass coverage, complementing the outstanding pass rush that the Colts get with their front four.

This D doesn’t really have a specific weakness, but they are stronger against the pass than the run. They put up a -12% DVOA against the pass and 5.2% against the run.  Not bad at all, but closer to average than their pass defense. Perhaps their undersized linebacking corps has something to do with this stat.

The secondary is led by two hard-hitting safeties, Mike Doss at the strong and Bob Sanders at the free. Like the Giants safeties, these guys are better in run support than pass coverage.

The corners are merely adequate. Nick Harper, in addition to getting stabbed in the knee by his wife and taken down by his ankle by Ben Roethlisberger, is small (5-10, 182), and according to the Sporting News scouting guide, “doesn’t show a second gear tracking the ball downfield.” Jason David, their corner on the other side, is even smaller (5-8, 172). Look for Eli and the Giants to exploit the matchup between Burress (6-5, 232) and Toomer (6-3, 203) against these guys. Little slants and comebacks might be the only way for the Giants to go, because Eli will have a lot of pressure in his face from Freeney, Mathis and company.

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