November 2006


1)  15:00  It began on the very first play of the fourth quarter. Facing a 4th and 4 at the Tennessee 41, Colonel Tom eschewed the Feely field goal attempt that would have put the G-Men up by four scores (probably – you know, with two point conversions and everything). (You can’t really blame him: It was his misguided faith in Feely’s atrophying leg that was so scrutinized two weeks ago.)

But anyway, we go for it. We’re in the shotgun, with David Tyree as one of the up-backs. Eli takes the snap, and right from his release, it’s pretty obvious that Tyree is wide the fuck open. But Eli does not look his way. Instead, he attempts a very awkward jump-throw to a well-covered Tim Carter, which is broken up by rookie d-back Cortland Finnegan. The Titans take over, and although they went three-and-out on their ensuing series, it’s fair to say that Eli’s poor decision cost the Giants what turned out to be a very important 3 points.

This play underscores an important point about Eli, which will be revisited a few times in the course of this post: When he’s off, everything breaks down. It’s not just his accuracy. It’s his pocket presence and his decision-making as well. I’ve watched the play a bunch of times (thanks to NYGMen commentator Wong, and his big TV/Tivo), and Tyree was… um… wide the fuck open!! On the side. As the default dump-off option.

Anyway, as I said, that play cost us 3 points.

2)  14:24  But the Giants D stepped up on the next series. On 3rd and 9, Fred Robbins, who, at this point in the season, just might be the defensive player who has made the greatest overall contribution this year, came up with a big sack. He did the ballin’ thing, and after the next commercial break, when the focused on him on the sidelines, he did the coolest little wrist-flick from the sitting position. I mean, if there’s one man that can do a wrist flick and look really cool instead of looking like he’s making a bad gay joke, it’s Fred Robbins. (And also, how baked does Robbins look? That guy’s the man.)

3)  13:07  But alas, two plays later was the play that will probably go down as the defining play of Sunday’s loss, and if the Giants don’t get their shit together, the defining play of this Eli/Plax/Shockey/Coughlin version of the Giants: The first Pac-Man pick, during which Plax, like, you know, stopped running.

As far as Plax goes, there’s not much to say that hasn’t already been said. Obviously a monumental disgrace. Let me take use this space to posit, however, that Plax isn’t a complete dog as much as he’s a complete space cadet. There’s a difference. Randy Moss is a dog. Leon Lett is a space cadet. Kevin McReynolds is a dog. Manny Ramirez is a space cadet.

I think this is why Colonel Tom gave him somewhat of a pass about the whole situation. I mean, clearly Plax’s production does not match the sum of his physical attributes, but I really don’t think it’s because of lack of effort, but rather because he’s just kind of an out-of-it dude. To me, Plax’s mental shortcoming don’t speak so much of a bad attitude as of absent-mindedness. Remember, the guy is an excellent blocker who, although he doesn’t get any credit for it, has been responsible for many of Tiki’s long runs. You see the guy hustling on those plays.

The moronic plays are incredibly frustrating, yes (including those fumbles – God, those fucking fumbles!), but I don’t think they’re necessarily grounds for a whole-sale character assassination.

(And re: the tackle attempt, which the commentator was killing him on: It was a shitty tackle attempt, but I don’t think that he “gave up” on the tackle attempt. Obviously, the fact that he missed the tackle compounded the infuriating play, but come on, he was trying to make that tackle.)

4)  This is neither here nor there as far as the G-Men are concerned, but Bobby Wade is the biggest Hines Ward.

5)  11:10  The Titans picked up a first down on their next set but then went backwards, and faced 4th and 9 from the Giants 20. Ah, this was the Frank Walker penalty. A lot has been said about this play. NYGMen commentator Zeke Mowatt put it best:

Did anyone (besides me) think that Walker’s hit was perfectly clean? He didn’t hit him in the head, and Young was still in bounds. Young was about two yards away from the first, and could conceivably have extended the ball out. It was close to the line, but given the importance of the Giants stopping him on 4th down, shouldn’t the refs just let them play tackle football, even if there was a precious quarterback involved?

Complete bullshit, and this thing with protecting quarterbacks is out of control. The league really has to do something about this – it’s absurd. There was a critical roughing penalty in the Monday night game as well, when the Packer d-lineman Jenkins was flagged on a clearly bullshit, but extremely consequential penalty on Hasselbeck that kept a Seahawks drive going and propelled them to a tide-turning touchdown. What makes the Walker penalty especially painful now is that it set the stage for the infamous Nuke play later in the quarter.

6)  9:38  With a 3rd and goal from the 4, Vince Young somehow threaded the Pierce-Emmons needle on a 4-yard touchdown pass to Bo Scaife. How he got it in there, and how either of the two linebackers didn’t make a play, is beyond me. It was just one of those plays that showed you that Vince Young was the best athlete on the field.

(Something to note on that play is Young’s quick, catcher-throwing-down-to-second throwing motion, and how much it benefits a quarterback to have a quick throwing motion. Like, if that were Eli, by the time he would have gotten the ball to the top of the mini-windmill that it his throwing motion, the linebackers would have converged.)

7)  8:06  This play didn’t wind up being consequential, but it could have: On 3rd and 9 of the Giants ensuing series, Eli made a horrible decision, but was bailed out by his even worse pass. He tried to cram one into Shockey, but Pac-Man sniffed out the route and made a break on the ball. If the ball had been decently thrown, Pac-Man would have stepped and front and been gone for the touchdown. But as it happened, the pass was so terrible and so low that the diving Pac-Man couldn’t even catch it. This was one time that we were lucky that Eli threw off his back foot.

8)  8:02  But Pac-Man was not to be denied, and made a great return on the ensuing punt. Somehow, Chase Blackburn allowed Pac-Man to blow by him on the sideline and scurry for another 10 yards, bringing the ball back to the G-Men 36, meaning that the punt only netted us 20 yards.

9)  6:55  Blackburn wasn’t done fucking up. After the Titans picked up a first down on the 16, Blackburn, who was the force linebacker on the play-side, lost contain on Travis Henry, allowing to Henry to pick up 9 yards. This gave the Titans 2nd and 1 at the Giants 7, which is a pretty ideal situation for an offense. They scored three plays later to pull within 7.

10)  It is worth mentioning at that the Titans kept eight men in the box the whole fourth quarter. Considering they were down by 21 points with, like, 10 minutes late, it was a pretty obvious strategy. But the Giants utter inability to move the ball at all was a painful reminder of 1) Colonel Tom’s notorious struggles to make in-game adjustments; and 2) The fact that when Eli is off, defenses can completely overplay the run with no fear of getting burned by the pass. Eli is that ineffectual when he’s off.

11)  4:31  Ah, but Eli actually did something good on the Giants’ next series! On 3rd and 5, when the Giants desperately needed a first down, Eli took off an a clutch scramble to cross the Fox yellow line. This was the first good thing that had happened in a while. At the time, I thought that the play would give us the little boost we needed to put down the insurrection.

12)  3:29  But no. On the subsequent 3rd and 9, Eli was flushed out of the pocket by a Titans rush, but when he moved right, he found himself out in space with, basically, all the time and space in the world to find a man and make a throw. As NYGMen commentator Wong pointed out, “Yo, he literally had about four seconds to make a throw right there.”

But instead of waiting for one of his receivers to come back to him or make a move or anything, Eli totally panicked, settling for a little four yard dump-off to a well-covered Tiki, who was brought down short of the first down immediately after catching the pass.

Yet another example of how all facets of Eli’s game break down when he’s struggling. I wrote this last week, and it still holds true: Young Elisha is lost.

13)  2:58  Even after all this, after they punted the Giants were still in a pretty good position to win the game. Momentum notwithstanding, the Titans had to drive 76 yards in 2:58 to tie the game.

14)  2:48  Things looked ever better three plays later, when Nuke made an awesomely athletic play in pass coverage and broke up a 3rd down pass to Drew Bennett, bringing up 4th and 10. (There was some debate as to whether Nuke actually got a piece of it, but after analyzing the film, it seems as if he did. The telltale evidence: the abruptly went from a spiral to a duck right when Nuke dove across.)

15)  Things (finally) looked as if they might turn out okay at this point. Yes, it was still a shameful, awful fourth quarter collapse, but the Titans did face a do-or-die 4th and 10 at their own 24. But in the span of three swift, devastating plays, they were once again deep in our territory.

1— 2:44  The Kiwanuka play. Enough has been said about this play, but please, let’s put the “he gave up on the play” thing to bed, okay? It was perfectly obvious to anyone with half a brain what Nuke was thinking: Young’s arm went forward, Nuke thought he threw, and he didn’t drive him to the ground because he feared the 15-yard penalty from the same crew that unjustly flagged Walker earlier in the quarter.

(The dipshit Fox commentator really got on my nerves on this one – he kept on harping about the unconscionableness of Nuke’s play, comparing it to Plax’s play as a Giants “give-up” play. Nuke didn’t give up on the play – he simply guessed wrong and made a stupid but understandable choice. Saying that Nuke “gave up” on the play is almost as stupid as saying that John Kerry meant to insult the American troops when he made that “stuck in Iraq” comment. Like, willful ignorance of someone’s motives is such a cheap stunt.)

Lost amid the noise about Kiwanuka was Will Demps’ horrendous effort on the play. The guy is a safety, one on one against a quarterback, and he couldn’t even lay a finger on him – he got juked out of his shoes! Tackling Young is a tough assignment, but all Demps had to do on the play was slow Young up a little, because Fred Robbins was flying to the ball. A horrible play. Demps has been a disappointment.

2— 2:31  On the very next play, Kevin Dockery gave way too much of a cushion – like, an 11-yard fucking cushion! – to Titans receiver Roydell Williams. Well, the guy wound up running a hitch, and because Dockery gave him such a big cushion, he was able to put an open-field move on Dockery and pick up 20 yards on the play. From 4th and 10 on their own 24 to 1st and 10 at the Giants 37.

(Dockery’s cushion was absurd. It would wind up haunting the Giants on the Titans’ last drive and even a couple plays later, when Drew Bennett caught a 7 yard pass in front of him.)

3— 1:59  This was the Vince Young scramble, which picked up 16 yards and moved the ball to the 21. It’s hard to fault anyone in particular on this play, but, if it hadn’t occurred to you at this point, this is when the Vince Young of this game really looked like the Vince Young of last year’s Rose Bowl. This was when the Fox commentator said, “He’s a gazelle. I mean, he is smooth now.” Unstoppable.

16)  :49  The touchdown. The tying fucking touchdown. Frank Walker’s coverage actually wasn’t bad; rather, the fault on the play lied with Will Demps, who was nowhere to be found in over-the-middle safety help. Brandon Jones’ post route made him the only receiver in the area, but Demps was in no-man’s land. Young threw a beautiful ball and the game was implausibly tied.

17)  :32  We bring the kickoff back to around the 20, complete a 9-yard pass, and then Eli throws another pick. A cruel joke.

The announcer criticized the decision for Eli to throw, but it actually wasn’t such a bad decision: David Tyree was wide open on the sideline. All Eli had to do was display a little touch and loft it over Pac-Man’s head. But no. And God, what a fucking quarter by Pac-Man.

18)  :23  I know this is painful, but only two more plays to go. On the Titans first play from scrimmage, Young completed an 11-yard out pass to Bo Scaife on the right side, made possible from a blown coverage by Antonio Pierce. Nobody is immune from the team-wide slump.

19)  :18  On the next play, Kevin Dockery once again gave way too much of a cushion to the man he was covering – a cushion that gave the Titans just enough yards to get into field goal range. Vince Young hit Brandon Jones on a 7 yard hitch, giving the Titans the ball at the NYG 31.

The field goal unit trotted out.

“I don’t have the words to talk about it right now, and I probably won’t when I see it [on film]. We’re going to be sick about this one forever.”

-Tom Coughlin

“A new low!”

-Donald “Boon” Schoenstein

I.

And you thought you were pissed after the Bears and Jaguars games. But are you even pissed? Is that the right word? Stunned is more like it for me. I think my anger peaked when Young hit Brandon Jones on the slant for the 14-yard touchdown to tie the game. After that play, I can’t say I was surprised or even upset about anything that happened. The dominoes had already started to topple – even if Eli doesn’t throw his latest unconscionable pick, was there any way that we win that game in OT? And even if we had won that game in OT, would you as a Giant fan have actually felt good about it?

In a way, I think it’s actually better that we lost. Bironas’ kick was a swift enough coup de grace. The game ended in a Giants loss, as it should have.

II.

In terms of awful Giants losses during my career, this ranks number 3 on the list, behind only 1) The 49ers loss in the 2002 playoffs; and 2) The Vikings loss in the ’97 playoffs.

The only reason that this isn’t number 1 is because the circumstances weren’t as critical. But in terms of an actual game, this is the most improbably awful chain of events. But the fact that, for better or worse, there will be more Giant football this year and that we can right this ship (at least, like, theoretically), makes it a little easier to swallow this loss. But not really. I am stunned.

I intentionally stalled a little before writing this post, figuring that my anger/ disappointment would abate somewhat so that I could approach this with some degree of lucidity. But no such luck. It’s late, I’m pissed, and it’s hard to imagine how I’m gonna shake this off in time to get to sleep at the much celebrated “reasonable hour.”

By tomorrow, you’ll be reading this at work, semi-refreshed, having slept on this disgraceful performance and put it in a more healthy perspective than the one I have now. There will probably be people, things, and tasks in your office that are bothering you more than Eli’s 19-41, 2 interception performance, which is actually a very flattering representation of his night.

For the sixth game in a row, the guy was bad. But tonight was the worst of them all – indeed, this was as bad as I can remember seeing a quarterback play. And because he was under so much scrutiny this week, tonight’s performance was particularly disappointing. In a big spot, in a big game, when he was under the microscope, Eli wilted.

But does this make him a wilter? No. Please, let’s hold off on those types of character assassinations. After all, we know from his track record of 4th quarter performances that they guy has a certain degree of mental fortitude.

But right now Elisha is lost – in terms of mechanics, confidence, and the trust of his teammates (who all seemed to be getting progressively more pissed over the course of the night). At this point, it’s fair to say that Eli is single-handedly dragging the offense down. None of the Giants will say this in any press conference, but the fact is, the pass protection was just fine tonight and the receivers didn’t drop any passes. Obviously, the running game struggled, which is a mitigating factor, but if Eli had even an average game, the Giants would have been firmly in the game (which, weirdly, they actually were until about 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, when Eli threw that unconscionable pick to that linebacker Ingram, who was camped in front of Plax, and then the Jags kicked a field goal to go up by 16.)

But as it happened, Eli continued to bury them, and they wound up pretty much getting blown out. The 26-10 score doesn’t do justice to the degree of ass-whoopage that took place. And because the Giants accumulated a good deal of garbage-time yards, the end-of-game stats don’t really either. But anyway, on the night, the Jags had 414 yards to our 247. They had only 1 turnover (the Taylor play, which, like, really should have been a touchdown!) to our 3 (which were all very well-deserved, and infuriating). Most telling of all, they had the ball for 40 minutes to our 20. That’s like some Super Bowl XXV shit! But alas, with the way Eli has been playing, we, umm… don’t have that old Bills offense.

Ok, I’m done for now. I’ll have more to say tomorrow. Bad loss. This type of effort will not do.

This will be a tough game. Despite their two embarrassing losses to Texans in the past month, you can make the case that the Jags are actually better than their 5-4 record would indicate. Their DVOA of 19.3% ranks 7th in the NFL.

(For those of you who don’t know what DVOA is, you can read my layman’s explanation of it by clicking here. If you’re not convinced, the important thing to keep in mind is that a team’s DVOA is actually more predictive of future winning percentage than a team’s win-loss record. Obviously there are exceptions, and obviously it’s easy to point to these exceptions to discredit the stat, but it really is worth learning about if you’re a serious fan. It’s on a very understandable scale [-30% = horrific, 30% = amazing, and then for defense it’s reversed], and best of all, it accounts for contextual factors like opponent and situation.)

But anyway, back to the Jags, this is yet another tough game – Tampa and Houston were nice, but it’s pretty much back to the gauntlet from here on out. The Jags are coming into this game with a chip on their shoulder from last week and needing a win to keep pace with the Chiefs for the last AFC playoff spot. With the return of Colonel Tom, in front of a Monday Night crowd, we need to get back on our horse and play a really sound game (which we haven’t really done since the Dallas Monday night game) if we expect to win.

 

Offense:

Fortunately, the Giants banged-up D doesn’t have too much to worry about in this game: the Jaguars offense is shitty. Overall, their offensive DVOA stands at -7.0%, which ranks them 22nd in the league.

Their offense hasn’t been so bad all year: after they thumped the Jets 41-0 in Week 5 to pull their record to 3-2, their DVOA for the year was a slightly above average 3.3%. But since then, over the past four games, it has managed to slip 10 whole points.

The biggest single factor in their recent offensive ineptitude? The play of quarterback David Garrard, who, despite the fact that the organization seems to favor him over Leftwich, is actually not very good.

As Michael David Smith points out, Garrard ranks 38 out of the 39 in individual DVOA among quarterbacks who have thrown at least 60 passes. It’s not like Leftwich was any great shakes – his DVOA was -7.4% — but Garrard, at -34.6%, has been perfectly awful. To put it into perspective, Eli, who people have been killing all week, has a DVOA of 9.3%.

Garrard can move though: it’s too bad that we won’t have Strahan and Osi, and Joseph and ‘Nuke will have to do a good job staying disciplined. Pro Football Prospectus summed up Garrard succinctly in their annual book: “Garrard is amazingly elusive, easily dodging five or six pass rushers and sprinting out of tackles before overthrowing his receiver by five yards.”

Not only is Garrard pretty bad, but so are the receivers. Reggie Williams, Matt Jones, and Ernest Wilfork are all big, toolsy guys with tons of potential, but the Jags have really struggled to replace Jimmy Smith.

(Speaking of Jimmy Smith, here’s how Pro Football Prospectus eulogized his underrated career:

“The question now is whether or not Smith will make the Hall of Fame. His raw totals of 862 catches and 12,887 yards measure up well. He currently ranks seventh in all-time receptions, but he will probably be passed by his former running-mate Keenan McCardell as well as Isaac Bruce and Rod Smith. In his prime, Smith was more dangerous than all of them. Still, the odds of enshrinement are not in his favor. Smith’s low profile and Jacksonville’s limited postseason success will work against him. Either way, those of us who got to watch Smith over the years are simply thankful for the opportunity to observe his artistry and the dignified way he carried himself on the field. He will be missed [not least of all by this year’s Jaguars].)”

But for a good take on the ineptitude of the current Jags receivers, read this AOL Fanhouse blog post, appropriately titled, “Jaguars Receivers: Big, but Bad.”

It is Garrard and these three physically gifted but…not good at football receivers who have combined to give the Jaguars a -15.6% passing DVOA heading into this game, which places them 23rd in the league. Of course, Rex Grossman and Muhsin Muhammad shredded our secondary (Corey Webster) last week, so you never know, but we can say that it’s not likely that the G-Men – who have a pass Defensive DVOA of -12.4%, good for 5th in the league (Remember, on defense, negative numbers are good!) – will have too much of a problem with this group.

The Jags running game is a little more competent though – It’s DVOA of 0.9% means that it’s slightly above average.

Fred Taylor is healthy and is having a pretty good year – he is 13th in the league with 696 yards, and 9th in the league with his healthy 4.7 yards per carry

His backup, Maurice Jones-Drew, has chipped in with 331 yards at an average of 4.5 yards per carry. Expect Jones-Drew, who is Joe Morris-esque at 5-7, 215, to get most of the goal line carries.

Of course, our run D is really awesome – its DVOA of -17% ranks it 6th in the league.

(There was a period in the Bears game where it looked like Thomas Jones was slicing through our defense at will, and it’s understandable that people remember this stretch because this is when the game got out of hand, but it’s important to realize that, for the most part, the G-Men actually did a good job containing the Bears ground game.

Yes, Jones broke 100 yards, but he averaged only 3.8 yards per carry. If you take away that big 26-yard run before the half, he averaged a measly 2.4 yards.)

But anyway, according to the ESPN scouting report, the Jags prefer running to the inside and to the left. Which means they’ll be running right at Kiwanuka, our left defensive end. The rookie has to hold his ground.

 

Defense

The Jags D is a whole different story. It’s about as good as their offense is bad – and then some. It’s DVOA of -25.4% ranks it 2nd in the league, just a shade behind the Bears.

Despite numerous injuries, it has been consistently dominant. Check out this blog post by the Fanhouse: Basically, they’ve had to substitute all kinds of guys all year, but they haven’t missed a beat.

They are excellent in both run and pass. Their run DVOA of -16.0% is basically the same as that of the Giants. This is a tough team to run on, though considering that Tiki was able to break a few against the Bears, don’t rule out a little Tiki magic tonight.

(He keeps on saying that the hand is fine. I’ll be more comfortable about that after the game. I mean, what’s he gonna do? If he says, “Yeah, it’s a little tender and a little bit of a concern,” the Jags defenders are just gonna slap the shit out of it. I mean, they’re gonna do that anyway, but still. This is a legitimate concern.)

Against the pass they are absolutely outstanding, ranking 2nd in the league with a DVOA of -34.7. Their 12 interceptions ties them for 4th in the league. (For the record, the Giants have 10 picks, though I think Fred Robbins has half of them.)

It’s their excellent corners that make their pass defense work. Rashean Mathis is one of the best in the business, and at 6-1, 195, he has the size to respectably hold his own against Plax. He has six picks this year. (Eli has be really, really careful. The obvious solution, of course, is to draw up a game-plan that utilizes Shockey!)

Another guy playing at a high level is defensive end Bobby McCray, who kind of came out of nowhere this year to post six sacks. McCray’s a speed-rusher, and the fact that he’s matched up against Whitfield is a concern.

But for the G-Men, it’ll be nice to get Eli out of New York and into the warmer climes of Florida. Hopefully he can have his first good game in a while, and we can get this thing rolling again towards Glendale. Beating a tough Jags team in their place on Monday night would re-establish us as an elite team.

My Jersey Journal article on football allegiances in Hudson County, which, for those of you who don’t know, is the one right across the river that contains Jersey City, Hoboken, Bayonne, etc., and is the purview of the Jersey Journal. Contrary to popular belief, the Jersey Journal is not a diary about my jersey collection.

The article is basically a run-down of a poll conducted by New Jersey City University. Not surprisingly, the G-Men reign supreme in Hudson County, as you would suspect they would in all of northern NJ, which has traditionally been Giants country – the Jets have more of a Long Island fan-base.

Many of the six-hundred respondents are clearly pretty ig’nant when it comes to football, but nevertheless, the poll reveals some interesting stuff: For instance, 62.1% of Hudson County Giants fans identified themselves as Republicans. This is pretty surprising, considering that Hudson County is one of the most Democratic counties in the country – Kerry beat Bush by a 2-1 margin in 2004, and Corzine beat Forrester by a 3-1 margin in the 2005 Gov. race.

Peter Handrinos, author of the forthcoming Best New York Sports Arguments: The 100 Most Controversial, Debatable, Questions for Die Hard New York Sports Fans, offers some good insight into this Republican affinity for the G-Men.

“The Giants have always been more associated with the establishment. You can even look at the nicknames: ‘The G-Men.’ ‘Big Blue.’ Even the red, white and blue colors speak of old-time values. In the sixties, the Giants were the guys with crew cuts, and Joe Namath and the Jets were the guys with long hair and beards.”

Check out this on-point and really well-written blog post by Michael Waxenberg about the return of Colonel Tom to Jacksonville. He writes, “Coughlin was the unitary executive in Jacksonville. He truly was the organization. The team’s ascent disguised his quirks, and its decline unmasked his hubris…. [But] Coughlin seems to have learned from some of the mistakes he made in Jacksonville. The Patton act isn’t quite so overbearing, except perhaps in his interaction with the media. He has made a genuine effort to connect with his players on the basis of mutual respect and not fear.”

–Well, it will be Bob Whitfield at left tackle on Monday – forget about sliding Diehl over and sticking Seubert in Diehl’s spot. It’s important to remember that Whitfield, for as bad as he looked last Sunday, was coming in completely rusty off the bench, working at a different position (left tackle) than he had the week before (right tackle, when he filled in for a migraine-ridden McKenzie.) Those subtleties in footwork make a big difference, especially when you’re coming in cold against Alex Brown.

Who knows? Maybe the loss of Petitgout won’t be so debilitating after all. And if Whitfield falters, there’s always the option of sliding Diehl over. This week should be a good test – Whitfield’s matched up against speed-rusher Bobby McCray, who comes into the game with 6 sacks. If he can handle this assignment, we’re not in bad shape.

–Tim Carter’s gotta step up, and it didn’t look encouraging when Amani’s replacement was blanked by the Bears. But as Mike Garafolo writes, the coaching staff was actually extremely pleased with Carter’s play. Let’s try to get him the ball – the guy can be a playmaker.

–So yeah, as you all know, Tuck is out for the year with a mangled Lisfranc joint. Jesus Christ, what’s the deal with our D-Ends and this Lisfranc thing? (Who is this Lisfranc character, you might ask? Well, check out the Wikipedia entry.) And I thought Tuck was, like, set to come back any day now? As commentator Fred ominously points out, “2006 DEs = 2005 LBs.” Let’s hope Strahan and Osi get well before we play Dallas on December 3rd. If we have to rest them against the Titans the week before, fine (although it would be nice having them to contain Vince Young).

Welcome back, Lance Legree, who will split time with Joseph at the left DE spot while Osi (who is doubtful) and Strahan (who is out) convalesce. Obviously it’s a huge downgrade going from Osi and Strahan to ‘Nuke and Joseph/Legree, but at least these are pro-quality players we’re trotting out. It would obviously be great to have our playmakers, but we should be okay.

–Also in this Garafolo piece, Sinorice Moss continues to progress, but both he and Colonel Tom are being cagey about whether he’ll play or not. How ‘bout not? I want this guy completely healthy, if that’s possible, for the stretch-run and the playoffs.

–In other injury news, Brandon Short is out and Carlos Emmons might play. We could use Emmons back, but let’s not rush him – Torbor and Gerris should hold up fine.

–And Sam Madison is questionable, and may actually miss a few weeks. This isn’t good – we’re really thin at corner now, and losing R.W. or Webster would be kinda devastating.

Speaking of Webster, his improvement at corner is about as critical as Whitfield’s improvement at left tackle. Two things you simply cannot have are a vulnerable left tackle and a vulnerable corner. We know Webster has the tools: he just needs to play better.

–Last but not least, NYGMen wishes a Happy Birthday to Dan, a regular NYGMen commentator, die-hard Giants fan and close friend since Kindergarten.

I.

Wait, first, it’s sooooo fucking weird that Bo Schembechler just died today.

II.

In a post last week, I took serious issue with New York Sun columnist Allen Barra’s pessimistic take on the Giants and especially Eli. I was hoping that Eli would come out against the Bears and have one good game to stem the tide of bad games, proving me right and the pessimistic Barra wrong. Unfortunately, he did no such thing. As Barra points out in his weekly Giants recap, appropriately though melodramatically titled “Passing Game Deteriorates Along with Giants Super Bowl Hopes,” Eli’s 3.8 yards per throw was around half of Tiki’s 7.4 yards per carry. Pretty sad, and it makes it five bad games in a row for the Easy Man.

Barra’s article also points out the following disturbing stat: “In his first four games,” Barra writes, “Manning threw 146 passes, averaged eight yards a throw, and had nine TDs to five interceptions. Since then, he’s thrown 147 passes, averaged 5.6 yards a throw, and had as many interceptions, six, as touchdowns.”

Yikes. Now, I’m not about to do what some casual Giants fans, or some New York-haters (such as my cousin Adam, from Chicago, who relished the moment when he declared “You guys have a serious problem at the quarterback position,”) are saying, but these numbers don’t lie. His performance of late, which now encompasses more than half the season, will not do; Eli needs to turn it around quickly and drastically.

(Of course, we die-hard G-Men fans know that good or bad, the future of the franchise depends on the guy. It’s kind of our job to stay behind him, lest the accumulation of negative energy, fueled by the New York media, drag down his still-young [and still promising!] career.)

III.

Colonel Tom has been getting killed in the wake of the failed field goal/Hester run-back play, but worth taking a look at which part of the play people are objecting to. Is it the decision to go for the field goal? Or the Giants falling asleep on the return?

Let’s start with the call to go for the field goal. In his article, Barra, who has been no fan of Colonel Tom through the years, actually goes out of his way to defend him. According to Barra, the logic for going for the field goal went something like this:

–Feely was attempting a 52-yarder on the same side of the field that he had comfortably drilled a 46-yarder a little over an hour before. (BTW, have you ever seen that much curvature on Feely’s kicks before? Was that all because of the wind? It was weird, because his first kick [the missed 33-yarder] kind of knuckled in the opposite direction.)

–If Feeley misses, the Bears get the ball back on the 34-yard line, but if the Giants punt, there’s a good chance that, as good as Feagles is, the Bears would have gotten the ball at the 20-yard line on a touchback. In other words, there was a strong possibility that not taking the risk would have only saved the Giants 14 yards.

But let’s assume that Feagles’ punt pins the Bears back at the 10, which would have been a pretty favorable outcome as far as punts go. That still would have saved us only 24 yards.

–To Colonel Tom, and to me, I’ll admit, it was more important to get within one point, seize momentum of the game (the Meadowlands would have been absolutely rabid from that point on), and take the pressure off the offense (who would no longer have to punch it into the endzone), and instead shift it to the Bears defense (who would have had to keep us out of field goal range).

All Feely had to do was do what he did when he knocked in the 46-yarder with room to spare. But alas, he actually wound up kicking it in front of the goalpost with room to spare.

But when Hester caught the ball instead of letting it fall short, it actually looked like the Giants could have had caught themselves a bit of a reprieve. If he had downed it or gotten tackled before the 20-yard line, the play wouldn’t have been all that worse than a punt. And if you assume that the Giants field-goal team was doing what it was supposed to do (busting it down-field once they looked up and noticed that the kick was falling woefully short with one of the game’s most dangerous return-men camped underneath it), this is really what should have happened.

Ah, but the worst conceivable scenario unfolded. Actually, it wasn’t even conceivable, which is really why it wound up happening.

But this leads to the other thing people are knocking Colonel Tom about: How is that such a drill-sergeant, discipline-type guy presides over a team that is characterized by these types of mental lapses? Overall, this is a legitimate question, but it’s worth noting that people went out of their way to defend him on the Hester play.

Right after the game, Jay Feely said that they had just practiced that play on Friday because they remembered that the Bears had done that last year when Nathan Vasher brought back Joe Nedney’s short field goal. I mean, it’s not as if it wasn’t on the Colonel’s mind.

And in the WFAN broadcast after the game, no less an authority than Carl Banks (who is really, really on-point, for those who aren’t familiar with the Giants radio crew) said: “On long field goals, the first thing the coaches holler is ‘cover.’ Jay Feely said they practice that every Friday. That’s not a coaching issue. Players have to do their part.”

I.

It’s not exactly an original point, but Thomas Jones’ “Third and forever” first down run, to quote the commentator, Gui, followed by Sam Madison’s pulling up lame and giving up that pitch-and-catch touchdown pass, was where the game was lost.

To put it into stark clarity: For the game’s first 29 minutes, we had outscored the Bears 13-3. Over the last 31 minutes, we got outscored 35-7. A total collapse.

II.

Where was Shockey all night? (Yet another point that’s been made by some schmuck at your “office cooler.”) Considering that Eli wasn’t getting any protection, and considering that none of our receivers, with the exception of Plax, could get open, shouldn’t we have made an effort to get the ball into the hands of one of the game’s best playmakers? For the night, Shockey had one catch – a measly catch! – for 15 yards. Eli put the ball in the air 32 times, and only one of those tosses went to J-Shock? Please. That’s ridiculous.

III.

You’ve no doubt heard a lot of shit about Eli by this point, and I don’t mean to pile on, but…

A distressing dissimilarity between Eli and his big bro is the difference between their throwing motions. Peyton has such a quick, over-the-top stroke, whereas Eli has kind of a loop in his motion.

Now, as anyone who has watched a Mets telecast with Keith Hernandez could tell you, hitters with long swings (Pat Burrell, Jeromy Burnitz, or to use an example Keith would, Danny Heep) are especially prone to slumps. The theory is pretty simple: the longer the motion, the more things can go wrong.

The same principle applies to quarterbacks, which is one of the reasons why Eli’s accuracy is so inconsistent.

Another disadvantage of the long throwing motion is that it allows onrushing defenders a bigger, longer target to take a swipe at the ball, which has manifested itself in the unacceptable amount of fumbles Eli has had this year – he fumbled twice in the Bears game.

Still another problem that the long throwing motion presents is that it allows defensive linemen another crucial instant to a) get a little closer to the quarterback; and b) time their jump to bat the ball down, which has been another thorn in Eli’s side.

That being said, the loss of Petitgout looms even larger. You have to be very worried about what Eli will do with Bob Whitfield protecting his blind side.

(BTW, how funny does Eli sound when he yells “Omaha! Omaha!” at the top of his lungs? The Mannings have such funny voices. My particular Eli favorite is “Alert! Alert!” – such a sloppy “L” sound, which maximizes the comedic potential of both Eli’s southern drawl and his substantial under-bite. But I love Eli. As Bill Maher would say, “I kid Eli, I kid Eli. I kid the President.”)

IV.

God, it really hurt when Thomas Jones and Devin Hester broke out with the “Ballin’” thing: Having your chant/ritual mocked really cuts deep.

But even if teams are going to mock us with it, we can’t abandon it – that would send the wrong message to the enemy.

When the ballin’ thing first started, I thought it was pretty stupid — but it soon grew on me. Perhaps it was the synchronized, 3-man version in Atlanta that won me over; or perhaps it was Michael Strahan’s rendition when he kicked out his legs in opposite directions; or perhaps it was Fred Robbins checking to see if his feet were behind the 3-point line before he went ahead and stroked the J…

Incredibly goofy as it may be, (and as incredibly premature as it is that Jim Jones, the Texas rapper, has already recorded a version specifically for the G-Men [and as incredibly funny it is that, unbeknownst to him, Jim Jones shares an otherwise non-descript name with one of history’s great villains/punch-lines of the last thirty years, the same man whose organized mass suicide spawned the phrase “drinking the Kool-Aid”]) is still a spontaneous ritual, and spontaneous rituals, goofy or not, don’t come around too often.

The last spontaneous ritual that the Giants started entailed an old middle linebacker draping himself in a security guard’s poncho and skulking around the sidelines during the last few minutes of games, (much to the delight of the home crowd), before dousing a young, good-natured Bill Parcells with a massive bucket of Gatorade.

Goofy? Absolutely. Excessive? Preposterously so. But on the hard Astroturf of East Rutherford in the mid-80’s, one of the most awesome traditions in sports was born.

The ballin’ ‘aint going away any time soon, Giants fans. You might as well embrace it.

I.

Well, that sucked. Not much more you can say about that – a painful, painful loss. Hester’s run-back will go down in G-Men infamy as an all-time shocking moment. At the beginning of that play, I was ready to cheer on the successful field goal and gear up for what was sure to be an awesome nail-biter. By the end of that play, a mere 10 seconds later, I had lost all physical and mental sensation.

But you know what’s even worse than the loss? The fact that Luke Petitgout, in all probability, is out for the year. I hope that after watching this game we all realize this, but Petitgout, (even though none of us really like him, and even though he’s never been a beloved G-Man, and even though my friend Dean coined the phrase “pull a Petitgout” [false start]), the guy happens to be one of the truly indispensable members of this team.

He’s the left tackle, and although he’s not one of the best left tackles in the league, he’s still one of the better ones. In all probability (and I haven’t seen any of the injury reports as I write this at 12:30 at night), he’s gone for the year. Which means that in one play, we’ve gone from an above average left tackle (whatever you may think of Luke) to Bob Whitfield, who as my brother aptly put it, “is the Julio Franco of the NFL.”

(This is a tremendous call. Both Whitfield and Franco are trusty old hands and good presences on the ball club. They’re old, wise dudes – how can you not love them? Unfortunately, they’re too old and decrepit to get it done at the professional level, which is too bad, because you root for these guys. I don’t know. I hope I’m wrong. Please say I’m wrong. Because if I’m not wrong, we’re fucked.)

But in case you weren’t watching tonight, Whitfield got absolutely abused. Eli’s not off the hook for his horrendous performance, but Whitfield’s sieve-job on Alex Brown was a major factor in this game. Madden picked up on this somewhat, but chose to chalk it up to Alex Brown’s propensity to play well against the Giants, or something like that, rather than Whitfield’s ineptitude as a starting left tackle. If we’re serious about being a Super Bowl contender, the guy is a major liability.

II.

There’s a lot of other stuff to complain about. How about Corey Webster? Madden was all over him, and NBC showed a telling statistic at some point, that Webster had gotten shredded for 125 yards over the course of the game. He was God awful.

The most infuriating play (which Madden, to his credit, jumped on) was that play near the end of the Third quarter, when the Bears, in their first series after a Giants touchdown had narrowed the gap to 4 points, faced 3rd and 13 on the Giants 20.

Muhsin Muhammad was open at around 7 yards deep, and for lack of a better target, Grossman (does anyone else hate this guy, by the way? Don’t his flabby white-dude upper-arms remind you of Jim McMahon’s, circa 1985?) dumped one off to him. The only thing that needed to be done on that play was to tackle Muhammad before he gained six additional yards and a first down. Let Muhsin catch the ball, and wrap him up, and the Giants would have forced a punt on 3-and-out and taken over in good field position with momentum.

But no – Webster tried to swat the ball down. Madden gave him too much credit, saying that he had gone for the pick. Going for the pick is one thing; Webster didn’t do that: he went for the swat. And he whiffed. And Muhammad picked up the first down. The Bears would be forced to punt on that possession, but not after picking up 23 more yards than they would have had Webster done the sensible thing.

When the Giants got the ball back on the next drive, they were forced to try the infamous 52-yard field goal. And after that play, the game was over.

III.

I don’t know what it is, but I seem to have an irrational loyalty to Colonel Tom. My brother hates him. He’s always calling me up during the games, all over the latest Colonel Tom negligence. And I can’t argue with him. It’s true that he should have gone for two to potentially pull us within 3 points with 3 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, and it’s true that there’s no excuse for Devin Hester’s return, and it’s true that the penalties are completely unacceptable… But, somehow, there’s something about the guy’s demeanor that makes me like him.

I don’t know if it’s the white shoes, or the beady eyes, or the off-centered nose, or the collared golf shirt buttoned up all the way to the top button, or the way he completely flips out on bad calls and it looks like his beet-red face is about to explode, or the way he spastically exorts the crowd to get up (which, admittedly, is a far cry from Patrick Ewing’s patented double wrist-flick), but there’s something about that dude that I find very appealing, and more important than that, very G-Men like. I don’t know – I can’t explain it. I just can’t shake the thought that this is the guy that will lead us to the Promised Land. I’m sorry, I can’t. It’s an article of faith at this point.

IV.

Lots of other stuff to talk about. Eli was awful. Over the past four weeks, it’s been tempting to overlook Eli’s progressively slipping play: He’s done enough to win… He hasn’t turned the ball over… He’s still young….

But God, Eli, how you disappointed us tonight! His mechanics, at this point of the season, are awful – as they were at this point last year. This is disconcerting: If we’re gonna get by without our #2 receiver, and without our startling left tackle, we need Eli to step up and be good.

We’ll give Eli and the Giants a mulligan tonight (as I encourage all of you to do – please, it was one loss after 5 wins!). But the schedule does not get easier, starting with next Monday night at Jacksonville. Time for Eli to step up. Please… Not to put this kind of pressure on you, but the fact is, the franchise is depending on you.

IV.

How big was Will Demps’ missed tackle on that Thomas Jones’ first down run? I know it was annoying that Al Michaels kept harping on that one play, but it really was as huge as they made it out to be. (In the post-game telecast, the broke out with the stat that it was the NFL’s only 3rd down conversion of over 20 yards on a running play since 1999. That’s pretty astounding.)

Demps didn’t have an easy assignment on that play, but he went in for the kill-shot when all that we needed was for him to stand in front of Jones to slow him up somewhat. But he went for the legs, and Jones cut the other way, and then he was off for a big first down gain. A few plays later, Sam Madison pulled up lame (who knows what’s gonna happen to him? God, can we bring Curtis DeLoatch back?) and the Bears, out of nowhere, get back into the game.

Ok, obviously, a lot more to say. But it’s very, very late, and I have work tomorrow. Don’t take this loss too hard, G-Men fans. We did win five in a row, but we did some stupid things tonight, and we were battling some key injuries, and the worst-case-scenario unfolded.

Again, what’s more troubling than the loss itself is the loss of Petitgout. But we’ll figure it out. If we play our best game, we’re better than the Bears when they play their best game – even in Soldier Field in January. Be optimistic.

Despite what Denny Green may think, it’s actually pretty hard to get a read of what type of team the Bears are. We know the defense is fearsome – at this point, it is actually statistically better than last year’s unit. Their DVOA of -26.2 actually ranks 2nd in the league behind the Ravens, but is 5 points better than their DVOA last year of -21.8.

Plax may have disparaged their corners, but the Bears are actually better against the pass than the run, posting an awesome -32.3% DVOA against the pass and “only” a -19.8% DVOA against the run.

But in two of the last three games, they have allowed two pretty shitty offenses – the Cardinals (31st in DVOA) and the Dolphins (26th in DVOA) – to post 286 and 298 yards on them, respectively. This isn’t that awful, but it certainly raises questions about whether this unit is as good as people thought.

In between those two games, however, the Bears threw down a 40-7 ass-whuppin’ (or as George W. would put it, “a thumpin’”) over the Niners, the type of annihilation that makes this team so tough to figure. No team has blown teams out like the Bears this year: 5 of their 7 wins (or 5 of the 8 games they’ve played) have resulted in 27 point victories. Overall, they’ve outscored their opponents by 134 points; By comparison, the Giants have outscored their opponents by 50 points, and the Colts have outscored theirs by 59.

So with the Bears, you have these two contradictory signs: They completely destroy the other team more than half of the time. Granted, the other team usually sucks, but destroying a team like they have is nonetheless extremely impressive. But, in two out of the last three games, they’ve been significantly outplayed by two teams in the bottom-third in the league.

**

Maybe their vaunted defense has been figured out recently? In his weekly preview of the Giants game, Sean Lahman writes of the Bears possible vulnerability against cutback and power runners. (Take this with a massive grain of salt. No team with a run DVOA of -19.8 can be described as vulnerable against such an encompassing group as “cutback and power runners.” But hey, we have one of the best and most versatile running attacks in the game. And if Ronnie Brown and the Dolphins can do it, maybe we can too.)

“Last week,” Lahman writes. “The Bears were trounced by an inferior Dolphins team, and that game showed several vulnerabilities in their defense. Because of their aggressive style, the Chicago defenders were often caught over-pursuing the ball carrier. They’ve also proven to be vulnerable against big, physical backs like Miami’s Ronnie Brown, who pounded them for 157 yards last week.

That’s a weakness the Giants seem capable of exploiting. Tiki Barber is great between the tackles, and Brandon Jacobs is perfectly suited to running against a team like Chicago. His best games this season have come against speedy defenses with aggressive schemes, like Indianapolis and Atlanta.”

So there you have it, G-Men fans. We may be able to run on this team.

**

The biggest difference between the Bears of last year (who nobody took seriously) and this year’s version (who, until three weeks ago, were being prematurely crowned NFC Champions) is an offense that has gone from inept to respectable. Last year, the Bears O pulled in with a DVOA of -16.8, making it one of the worst units in the league. This year, they’ve improved to the middle of the pack with a -2.3% DVOA.

The offensive improvement can be traced to their much improved passing game, which has leapt from a horrendous -32.3% DVOA under Kyle Orton to an adequate 1.3% DVOA under Rex Grossman.

This figure would be even better if Grossman didn’t have two of the worst games that any quarterback has had all year during the last three weeks — no exaggeration. In every game but those two, however, he has played at a very high level (and not just in comparison to Kyle Orton). But against the Dolphins, he threw three picks, and two weeks before against the Cardinals, he threw four. Those two games alone have accounted for seven of his ten interceptions.

In his “Any Given Sunday” segment, which examines the most unexpected result of the previous week, Ned Macey asks:

“What can we expect from Grossman going forward? In all honesty, your guess is as good as mine. There is no precedent for a player spending 75 percent of the time as one of the game’s best quarterbacks and the rest of the time as the second coming of Ryan Leaf.”

What does this mean for the Giants? Well, the word on Grossman is that his mechanics break down when he’s faced with pressure, which means that this is quite the inopportune time to lose our two Pro-Bowl defensive ends – I’m not sure what Tuck’s status is. Expect Kiwanuka and Awasom to get the starts, which mean that the game may hinge on the performance of the Rooks.

(The Giants are fortunate, however, that Bernard Berrian, the Bears one and only deep threat, will miss tomorrow’s game with badly bruised ribs. Without Berrian, the Bears don’t really have anyone to stretch the field.)

**

In other injury news, Carlos Emmons is still questionable, but my guess is he won’t play. Is this guy ever healthy? Brandon Short is also out, so in all probability, Gerris Wilkinson will start at the weak side and Reggie Torbor will start at the strong side. Thank God we have depth, but these injuries are getting ridiculous.

Also, Plax is still listed as questionable. Whether he plays or not will depend on how his back feels when he wakes up tomorrow – nobody really knows. But God, last week’s game sure showed that this guy is pretty indispensable, especially with Amani out.

Although he practiced, Sinorice Moss will not play. So if Plax is out, look for Carter and, I don’t know, Jennings?, to get the start, with Tyree as the third guy.

Madison is also questionable. As I’ve written before, the drop-off between Madison and R.W. isn’t that significant, but still…

Anyway, with all these injuries, who knows what will happen in this game. For that reason, I hope I’m not alone in saying that for the first time in many weeks, I would not be terribly upset if we lost. Yes, it is Sunday night and the Meadowlands will be jumping, and yes, home field advantage is at stake, but without Strahan, Osi, Tuck, Emmons, LaVar, Madison, Amani, and possibly Plax, the G-Men are just not the team that we all hope will make it to the Super Bowl.

(Yes, I know, I wrote that the loss of Amani may actually help us down the line. But not now, obviously, with Plax banged up and Moss out.)

But the Bears recent poor play, and the Meadowlands crowd, and the fact (hopefully) that this is our year, may be enough to push us over the top. Go G-Men!

**

Oh, actually, another small item: Chad Morton has been replaced by Derrick Ward as a kick returner, the Star-Ledger reports, though he will keep his job as the punt-returner. Good, at least the part about him not bringing back kicks anymore. I was planning on writing something about how Morton’s been terrible – the guy really doesn’t have any break-away speed. But Derrick Ward? Where’s Michael Jennings? What’s the point of replacing Willie Ponder with a raw track-star if you’re not gonna use him to bring back kicks?

It looks like Osi’s gonna miss Sunday’s game. We’ll see about Tuck, but hopefully, he can go — so far this year, the only way to make Grossman have a bad game is to put pressure on him (Cardinals game, Dolphins game). But let’s take a moment here to shout out Kiwanuka, or as I prefer to call him, “’Nuke.” (‘Nuke is just a far superior name to “Kiwi,” which sounds effeminate from the moment it leaves the lips. Not only does it speak of swift and complete destruction, but it also echoes the greatest nickname ever created when Annie Savoy told Ebbie Calvin LaLoosh, “Honey, you need a nickname.” For those of you who aren’t familiar with Bull Durham, that reference went completely over your head.)

But anyway, on the subject of ‘Nuke, here’s what Mike Garafolo had to say about him when he presented him with a Star-Ledger game ball after last Sunday’s game:

“Kiwanuka gets a game ball for making seven tackles – including a few from behind on stretch runs by the Texans. If he doesn’t make those stops, Houston would have had a lot more yards on the ground. Kiwanuka looked like Strahan on those plays – closing down the line to make an ankle tackle. The Giants will need more of that with Strahan out of action.”

So get up in there, Rook! ‘Nuke will be a key player this year. Let’s see what the man can do.

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