January 2007


We’ll talk about this past year a little more as the off-season goes on, and free agency and then the draft are just around the corner, but since there’s no recent news in G-Men nation, let me use this post to direct our attention back to the happier times of 2005, when, horrible ending aside, everything seemed so promising.

Here are my detailed recaps of twelve of the seventeen games last year, linked from my old website. They’re pretty long and sort of blow-by-blow dramatic – I tried to make them kind of Roger Angell-ish (Roger Angellic?). Unfortunately, because I was super-busy at work, I missed writing up four games, including the Broncos game, which was, like, the best Giants game since, like, 2000.

These things might be a little too long to be read at your work computer. My suggestion: print them out and read them at your leisure. Enjoy, and no matter how disgraceful 2006 was, keep bleeding Big Blue.

**

Week 2: Giants 27 – Saints 10

Week 3: Chargers 45 – Giants 23

Week 4: Giants 44 – Rams 24

Week 6: Cowboys 16 – Giants 13

Week 10: Vikings 24 – Giants 21

Week 12: Seahawks 24 – Giants 21

Week 13: Giants 17 – Cowboys 10

Week 14: Giants 26 – Eagles 23

Week 15: Giants 27 – Chiefs 17

Week 16: Redskins 35 – Giants 20

Week 17: Giants 30 – Raiders 21

Week 18: Panthers 23 – Giants 0

Normally I don’t care about what (or who) professional athletes do off the field. I subscribe to the theory that the less you know of these guys, the better – the only way not to be disappointed at what douches/assholes/morons many of these guys probably are is to judge them exclusively by their on-field personas. When it comes to their off-field selves, I support the “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy.

But sometimes, a news item or an internet image will surface that forces me to see a side of these guys I would be better off not seeing, something that breaches the line between on-field and off-field and permanently compromises the way I feel about them.

No, I’m not talking about Strahan’s ugly divorce, about which I never gave a flying fuck (except that part about him taping his wife’s sister with a hidden camera in an alarm clock, which seemed like a really good idea.)

I’m also not talking about Gibril Wilson (pictured at right with the sunglasses at night, so I can so I can) being a notoriously cheap tipper at strip clubs. I mean, d-backs are some grimy dudes. Everyone knows that. Besides, if we expect them to be stingy when it comes to giving up yards to wide receivers, how can we expect them to be anything other than stingy when it comes to lap dances? (And as far as safeties go, I’d much rather root for a guy who goes to strip clubs, even if he stiffs on tips, than a… man like this.)

No, this stuff doesn’t concern me: I was more concerned about Strahan’s right foot than his prenup; I was much more angry about Gibril’s missing an easy interception in the Dallas game (which, I maintain, was a play that could have changed the season if he had just… caught the fucking ball!) than about his tight-fistedness around the g-string; and the fact that Will Demps missed about a dozen crucial tackles concerns me a lot more than that, in the immortal words of A.C. Slater, he’s “a lover, not a fighter.”

But these photos, courtesy of Sam Rubenstein at SLAM Magazine, are rather alarming. I think they speak for themselves.

Sam succinctly summed up the collective incredulity of G-Men nation when he wrote, “Karaoke on Christmas Eve?” Worse yet, Sam’s source reports that Eli “was doing karaoke to the soundtrack from ‘Grease’ and Bon Jovi’s ‘Living on a Prayer.’” Yeesh.

I mean, this photo was one thing – it just makes Eli look like a normal if somewhat doofy dude. But this latest batch is a matter of grave concern about a guy who, like it or not, is the franchise.

Ok, some big doings in Giant-land since the last time I posted, so let’s talk about some of those.

I.

But first, to rehash, the retaining of Colonel Tom was absolutely senseless, indicative of an out of touch, paralyzed ownership that appears to have neither the desire nor balls to move forward from the unmitigated disaster that was the last nine games of this past year.

The explanations proffered – that retaining Coughlin was necessary to preserve a sense of stability, or that he was merely the victim of unfortunate injuries, or that he had the right idea going forward, or that the players actually wanted him back (this last one seems like the most ridiculous) – are fatuous. Sorry to say, but it appears that the Giants brass is unwilling to take a chance, any chance, that might reverse the rapidly deteriorating state of affairs of this once proud franchise.

Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of the developments of this young off-season is that most of Coughlin’s assistants are getting fired, most notably the offensive and defensive coordinators. If you think about it, this really makes no sense – not the decision to part ways with the coordinators, but the decision to part ways with the coordinators and retain Tom.

I mean, from a logical standpoint, how can we say that the coordinators are at fault, but the guy that both hired them and supervised them is not?

Michael Waxenberg, the proprietor of NJ.com’s excellent Big Blue Blog, puts it perfectly in one of his recent posts:

“The upheaval suggests that ownership considers Coughlin’s entire program a failure…. Coughlin hired all of the guys who are now facing the consequences of his failure. So why is Coughlin still here? Leadership? No. Game management? No. Ability to attract talent? Obviously not. Unless there’s a plan in place for 2008, very little of what’s going on at the Meadowlands makes any sense.”

Exactly. And even if there is a plan in place for 2008, it’s completely unconscionable to wait that long to enact it. We have some talent and it’s not getting any younger. Fuck, I want to win in 2007.

Furthermore, if the Giants expect to assemble a new staff, are we really in any position to do this? Waxenberg hits it on the head when he describes the Meadowlands as “a singularly unattractive destination for new hires.”

His reasoning? The team’s best offensive player is retiring. The team’s best defensive player has an alarming recent injury history and is 35 years old. The organization is ensconced in negative vibes as much as George Costanza was once ensconced in velvet. And lastly, Colonel Tom, in the words of Waxenberg, is “the lamest of lame ducks.” Why would any good coordinator prospect put himself in this situation? (Oh, and Tom’s also a dick. I mean, would youITAL want to work for him?)

II.

A couple of quick notes related to the coordinator situation. First of all, it seems that, for a brief little while, we were all supposed to get excited about Dom Capers as our next defensive coordinator… before he was retained by the Dolphins (who don’t even have a head coach, for Christ’s sake!), who gave him a record-setting deal for a coordinator. Alas, no Capers, and we’ll have to search elsewhere.

A couple of names mentioned for the job since then have been Miami’s linebackers coach George Edwards, former Falcons head coach Jim Mora, Jr. (until he replaces Ty Willingham at the University of Washington [speaking of Ty Willingham, that ref Mike Carey, who takes so much pride is explaining every call, like "However, the runner’s elbow was down, which by definition means that the play is blown dead. Therefore, it is a first down for Baltimore."]) and… are you ready… Pepper Johnson, who now serves as the Patriots defensive line coach.

Also, it appears that Kevin Gilbride is taking over as the new offensive coordinator, yet another recent uninspired move by the G-Men brass. I mean, first of all, it’s Kevin Gilbride – the guy’s a serial retread whose most famous moment was getting decked by fellow-coordinator Buddy Ryan on the sideline of a Houston Oilers game.

Second of all, how does Gilbride get a reprieve from the underachieving mediocrity that has become of the high-priced Giants offense? He was the quarterbacks coach, for Christ’s sake, and last I checked, it was the quarterback who was the sloppiest, most clueless player on the offense, the single biggest reason for the underachieving!

(What’s so disturbing about Eli is that his fragile psyche and inconsistent mechanics run so counter to everything we heard about him coming out of Ole Miss. Was his pre-draft reputation a mirage? Or has he been poorly coached? It has to be one of these things, but the Giants don’t seem to want to acknowledge either one as a possibility.)

III.

Finally, the biggest news: NYGMen wishes a hearty welcome to the Giants new GM, Jerry Reese. Reese, a native of Tiptonville, TN, has the biography of a classic football junkie. He was a star safety at the University of Tennessee-Martin, and stayed on as a graduate assistant and then as an assistant coach after his playing days were over.

In 1994, he joined the Giants scouting department, and for the past four years, he has supervised the draft for under Ernie Accorsi as Director of Player Personnel. His draft results have been mixed. For every Osi Umenyiora and Chris Snee, there has been a Tim Carter or a Will Allen/Will Petersen.

It’s tough to judge Reese’s draft record because you can’t separate Reese’s input from the final decisions made by his boss, Ernie Accorsi. Plus, the jury is still out on Accorsi’s draft and his signature draft strategy of trading later and future picks for the player he is sure he wants, whether that’s Jeremy Shockey, Will Allen, Sinorice Moss, and, of course, Eli Manning. Time will tell…

Around G-Men nation, you can sense the people’s reluctance to get excited about this move. To some, it must seem like just a safe continuation of the status quo in the same way that retaining Colonel Tom was. That’s certainly one way to look at it: We’re continuing with the same brain-trust of an organization that presided over the most frustrating season in recent Giants memory.
But, to make a corny New York Post back-page pun, All I am Saying is Give Reese a Chance. The guy is young (43), which is a change of pace for an organization that usually tends toward the old and stodgy, and has certainly earned his stripes.

So a Big Blue welcome to the new GM. Your charge is simple: bring us a Super Bowl. Make it happen, Jerry!

We Giants fans have absorbed more than our fair share of punishment over the past couple of months, but yesterday’s decision to retain Tom Coughlin ensures that our pain will not end with the end of this season.

Make no mistake about it: the Giants organization is lost. Let’s examine, point by point, the rationale offered by team President John Mara and Treasurer Jonathan Tisch for keeping Colonel Tom around:

1) “What we wanted to hear from him is what is his plan going forward,” said John Mara, in both a logically and grammatically questionable statement. “We wanted to hear those answers and we heard them.”

This was probably the most prominent quote in the papers, but it shows nothing other than that Coughlin told Mara and Tisch Jrs. what they wanted to hear. I could just as easily go into a job interview with a Wall Street company and say that I want to increase my department’s profits by 700%. That would seem like a good “plan going forward,” but there is nothing in my track record that would indicate that I would be capable of producing such a result. Similarly, Tom’s grand plan must be weighed against the evidence of the past three seasons accumulated against him.

One would expect Coughlin apologists would cherry-pick and manipulate the evidence to support their claims. To wit: Strahan’s claim in his statement that “He has led us to back to back playoff appearances for the first time in my 14-year career.”

Back to back playoff appearances, huh? Well, I suppose that’s one way to look at it. But how about looking at it this way:

–In the Colonel’s three years, we’ve been over 500 only once.

–In the second half of his three seasons, the Giants have gone 8-16. If you count the playoffs, we’ve been 8-18. Such a poor showing in the second halves of seasons is evidence that the rest of the league has caught up with us while we have failed to make the necessary adjustments. Rigidity and the inability to make adjustments: frequent and evidently valid criticisms of Coughlin throughout the years.

–The penalties. Ah, the fucking penalties! I don’t have stats on this one, but do I need them for this argument? Those fucking penalties, man. Is there any reason to think that we’ll curtail those next year?

–When both Coughlin and Eli came to the Meadowlands in 2004, we knew that, good or bad, Coughlin would largely be responsible for the stewardship of Eli’s young career. Well, we’re three years into the Eli experiment, and at this point, you have to say that it’s been a severe disappointment. Yes, Coughlin has “led” us to consecutive playoff appearances, but he also has presided over a severely disappointing first few years of the single player whose progress is by far the most important to the franchise’s long-term future.

2) “We have not named a new general manager. That really didn’t have any affect on this decision,” said Mara, who then said, “We felt like we needed to make a decision on the head coach really quickly.”

“Ideally,” Mara continued. “You’d like to have the general manager issue settled first, but those circumstances were not in line for us, so we had to take care of this issue and that’s what we did.”

I get the sense from this that the Giants decision to re-hire Coughlin was brought about by their feeling rushed and overwhelmed by the idea of hiring an entire brain-trust in the span of a few short weeks. They wanted to settle the coach issue first, because only then could they pursue a general manager with the diligence required for such an important decision. The question of who coaches the team must be settled first, because by the time they conduct a thorough GM search ‘n’ hire, the ranks of available coaching candidates will be completely depleted.

Look at it this way: If they had fired Coughlin now, they would have been under a lot of pressure to quickly hire a GM so that that GM could then quickly hire a coach before the ranks of available candidates became depleted. But because they didn’t want to be in the position of hastily making a decision on the GM, they figured the safe move was just to settle the coaching issue quickly.

And that’s all that this move was: the safest move possible for two overwhelmed rookie owners faced with their first watershed couple of decisions. If Coughlin has another shitty year and proves to be the wrong decision, they get rid of him and that’s it – it only hurts us for one year. But if the new GM turns out to be a dud… then we’re fucked.

In a sense, Mara and Tisch were victims of bad timing. It was really too bad for them that the GM was leaving at the same time that the fans were calling for the coach’s head.

But didn’t they bring this bad timing on themselves? Check it out: Judging by the recent news reports of Scott Pioli’s alleged rejection of us, our alleged rejection of Parcells, as well as the Giants tradition of loyalty to in-house guys, I have a feeling that Jerry Reese will be our next GM. If we do in fact go ahead and hire Reese, you have to ask yourself: Why the fuck didn’t we do this before, so that we could have avoided this awkward predicament of having to make such a hasty decision on the coach?

Remember what John Mara said: “Ideally, you’d like to have the general manager issue settled first, but those circumstances were not in line for us, so we had to take care of this issue and that’s what we did.”

Those circumstances were not in line, John, but that’s partially you’re fault. Yes, it’s an unlucky predicament, but in the words of Branch Rickey, “Luck is the residue of design.”

3) “It is our strong belief that consistency, stability, loyalty, and sticking by your people are extremely important.”

–Jonathan Tisch

Hey, I’m all for consistency and stability, but those two words cannot possibly be used to describe the Giants under Tom Coughlin: There’s nothing consistent or stable about this team whatsoever.

Considering the circumstances, Tisch’s argument here is profoundly ridiculous. Imagine seeking the guidance of a psychologist because you’re in a nasty, destructive relationship, and then having your shrink tell you, “I think you should stay in this relationship. Considering how shaken up you are, what you really need is stability.” I mean, really. What the fuck kind of logic is that?

4) “In all of my discussions, and our discussions with the players, it’s my sense that they are craving the stability that is now afforded by the coach’s remaining.”

–Tisch again

Ah, yes, these statements from the players. Strahan, Shockey, and Pierce (there are the links their respective statements [except for Pierce -- trust me on that one], basically sounding the same “Yay, Tom! note). The old superstar, the hothead, and the respected heart and soul. They’re really touching all the demographics here. I’m impressed.

But I’m also skeptical. I’m not gonna say that these guys were forced to say anything, but isn’t it possible that they were asked to say something? And what if they had refused to publicly stick up for Coughlin? This is the NFL, not the NBA, and these guys aren’t guaranteed their contracts. As good as these guys are, it’s still in their best interest not to bite the hands that feed them.

That said, I will concede that the rift between the players and Coughlin is a bit overstated. Even as the season was going completely down the shitter, these guys showed up every Sunday and played hard (with the exception of the Saints game). It’s not as if these guys gave up on the coach.

5) There was a thread in the comments from yesterday’s entry that introduced the theory that the Giants rationale for retaining Coughlin was, in NYGMen commentator Junior’s words, “the perceived dearth of coaching talent out there.”

If that were the case, if the Giants were really holding out another year to get their dream, big-name coach… well, that would be quite infuriating.

I don’t know about you, but I have no desire for a big name coach. Hiring Bill Cowher to coach this team appeals to me only slightly less than hiring Larry Brown to coach the Knicks did.

I mean, fuck, let’s get a new guy! Think of it this way: Our two best coaches since Kennedy was president were Bill Parcells and Jim Fassel, who were complete no-names when they were hired. Do you really want the Steelers’ sloppy seconds? Do you really want us to become one of those New York franchises obsessed with accumulating big names? Please. I’m sure there are plenty of excellent candidates out there. Norm Chow comes to mind. How about Ron Rivera, the Bears defensive coordinator, or Cam Cameron, the Chargers offensive coordinator? What about Karl Dorrell, the UCLA coach?

I mean, it’s not like hiring coaches in the NFL is like drafting players in the NBA. It’s not like Norm Chow is an Andrew Bogut, but if we wait a year, Bill Cowher will be a guaranteed LeBron James. It’s such an inexact science that to base your decision about whether or not to fire a coach based on the available coaching talent pool out there is preposterous.

**

So like it or not, we’re stuck with this guy for another year. Another year of stilted, underachieving football. Another year of the maddening propensity to make mistakes at the worst possible times. Another year of both the players and the media questioning the coach. How, how, oh how did we willingly sign on to another year of this shit?

Needless to say, NYGMen is not pleased with the announcement. Just when you thought the bombardment of bad news was over, now comes this. There’s obviously a lot more to say about this, but I’m at work right now and I don’t really have time to get into it. But expect a not-so-lucid rant in the near future, provided I don’t commit a felony before the day is out.

In the interest of fairness, let me put this to any reader who cares to chime in: Does anyone think this is a good move? If so, please explain.

I.

Death is for many of us the gate of hell; but we are inside on the way out, not outside on the way in.

–George Bernard Shaw

 

It’s finally over. The bitter Sundays, the weekday bickering, the sheer exertion required to cling to an ever-evaporating sense of hope. The false starts, the back-footed throws, the bratty arm-flailing of overlooked receivers. The missed tackles, the heart-wrenching third down conversions at our expense. The red face, the crooked nose, the beady eyes, the white sneakers, the golf shirt buttoned all the way up to the top.

All of the above, along with Brian Westbrook, pulled the plug on the Giants season yesterday, mercifully delivering us from our slow, wretched, undignified death. We were left on Monday with an appropriately gray and gloomy day in the tri-state area and what is sure to be a busy offseason in which we face a host of critically important questions:

Who’s the GM? Will this mystery GM do the sane thing and admit that the Coughlin era (25-25 after yesterday’s loss) is unsalvageable? Who’s the new coach? How are we gonna get Eli turned around, and is this even possible? Will we hand the keys of the running game to Jacobs, who seemed to have disappeared down the stretch? How are we gonna use the draft and free agency to address our obvious deficiencies?

But those are questions for another day, because now, Giants nation is in mourning. Like everyone else, I am left with the same mix of disappointment, anger, and of course, relief.

II.

Yesterday’s loss was typically painful, one final punch to the gut to send us into the off-season. Where to begin?

1) Well, how about our three chances to take a two-score lead in the first quarter? Our defense was playing with a fire under its ass in the early going, and Philly’s offense hadn’t yet woken up. After we took a 7-0 lead, we took possession at midfield no less than three consecutive times, with golden opportunities to establish some control over the game. As Mike Francesa said later on “Mike’d Up,” “If you really want to get crazy, it could have been 17-0.”

All we needed was just a couple of first downs, a couple of plays. But of course we couldn’t come up with them. And then Brian Westbrook broke off that quick, masterful 49-yard touchdown run – with no small assist from a missed tackle by Will Demps – and we had officially blown it.

What made these blown opportunities so maddening was that we’ve been pulling this shit all season. It seems like so many times that we’ve outplayed the opposition for an extended period of time in the early going, but just haven’t made the two or three plays that would make the scoreboard reflect that fact. It was obvious to all of us that the Eagles weren’t going to stay asleep forever – we knew we that they would eventually get it going, and if we were serious about winning, we had to capitalize on the good situation presented us in the opening quarter.

And after we failed to come up with any points, even though we were still winning and it was still early, you just got the same “here we go again” feeling. Those blown opportunities just so adhered to our persistent pattern of underachievement; you just knew that not being able to manage one measly field goal was gonna bite us in the ass. More than three hours later, David Akers drilled that field goal, the one that we couldn’t come up with, and that was the difference.

2) I have heard Eli get a fair amount of credit from some quarters for “bouncing back,” or something, in the fourth quarter to “lead” the Giants on a game-tying touchdown drive. I beg to differ with that assessment, and submit that this effort of Eli’s was almost just as bad as his collapse in last year’s playoff game against Carolina.

Look, I’ve tried as hard as anyone can to defend Eli for as long as possible, but the fact is that after three years in the league and two full years as a starter, he’s been a severe disappointment. A bust? No, I wouldn’t say that, because he hasn’t been awful awful and there’s still hope. But put it this way: he’s closer to being a bust than he is to being “on track.” I’m sorry, but it’s true.

In my previous article, I pointed out that Eli’s DVOA for the second half of the year was -14.9%, which means that during the second half, he was worse than such bums as Joey Harrington, Jake Plummer, Rex Grossman, and Alex Smith. (I’ll do the DVOA explanation for the uninitiated. You can click here and scroll down to the third paragraph for the short version, or click here for the longer version.)

An aggravating circumstance is that Eli, unlike many other top picks, is surrounded by excellent talent. Aside from his first year, the offensive line has been stable and solid, although, to be fair, the loss of Petitgout hurt our pass protection considerably during the second half this year. Tiki is not only one of the best runners in the game, but as a terrific receiver and savvy pass blocker, he is a quarterback’s best friend. Shockey is a Pro-Bowl tight end, and Plaxico is an excellent receiver.

So factoring in the talent that surrounds him, the only conclusion that we can draw is that not only are Eli’s stats disappointing, but he is actually worse than his stats would indicate.

As an example, look no further than yesterday’s game. Eli was 16 for 27 yesterday for 161 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 pick. On the surface this is somewhat respectable, but not very good by any stretch – kind of like the numbers he put up on the year.

But if you look a little deeper, you’ll realize that an inordinate amount of these completions had very little to do with him. To wit:

-The 29-yard completion to Plax on the first play from scrimmage. I don’t know how Plax came down with this, but it was the first of a day full of ridiculous plays from a guy they said disappeared in big games. He somehow reached over the back of the DB and brought it in. An awesome catch.

-The 17-yard touchdown pass to Plax. Yet another bail-out attributable to Plax’ freakish height and athleticism. Eli had him wide open in the end-zone and basically overshot him, but Plax saved his ass with a nice leaping and soft-handed grab.

-The 47-yard pass interference penalty to Plax with 43 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Has Eli ever not underthrown a guy on a bomb? This one was woefully underthrown, so underthrown that Plax had to double back for it, which caused him to run into Sheldon Brown and pick up the lucky penalty. There was nothing wrong with the ref’s call – it was a pass interference. But we were lucky that yet another weak-ass duck from Eli actually led to something good.

-The 18-yard pass to Plax with 6:16 left in the fourth quarter, where Eli just chucked it off his back foot and Plax somehow came back and corralled it. Yes, I know you need breaks to win games, but this was nothing if not a complete prayer. Props again to the P-Man for making a play, but I simply cannot give Eli credit on this, especially considering that it was his atrocious (and frighteningly deteriorated) pocket presence that led to his drifting back and winging it off his back foot in the first place. I mean, it’s not as if there’s any precedent for this move producing good results.

-The 14-yard first down completion to Plax on the very next play. Horrible call, horrible throw, tremendous individual effort by Plax. Doesn’t the fact that we called this play on 3rd and 12 show how much our confidence in Eli had eroded, even during the middle of a drive during which he supposedly “stepped up?” Once again, he sailed one high, and if not for Plax’s ups ‘n’ hands, it would have been a most disgraceful incompletion. But Plax brought it down, slipped a tackle, and picked up the first down.

So not including the 47-yard pass interference call, which doesn’t count as part of Eli’s passing yards, those four plays add up to 78 yards that we can reasonably say had nothing to do with Eli. And if you take away those 78 yards, Eli is left with 83 passing yards on the day.

So instead of “focusing on the positive,” as Colonel Tom would have you do, why don’t we see this performance for what it was: Our franchise quarterback’s second awful playoff game in as many tries, and a horrible end to the horrible regression that was his second half of the season.

3) Will Demps’ poor play on the ball on 3rd and 5 from the Giants 40 with 1:53 remaining in the third quarter.

In a league with the parity of the NFL, with the teams as evenly matched as the Giants and Eagles, you knew there was a good chance that the game would come down to a matter of inches. You also knew that the Giants would probably be on the short end of those inches. It’s been that kind of year.

Critical inches were all that separated Will Demps from breaking up a 3rd and 5 pass intended for Reggie Brown, but alas, inches were not on our side yesterday, and the pass was hauled in for a devastating first down.

The smart move for Demps would have been to use a little finesse and reach his hand in for a tip, but he instead tried to set himself up for the hit, seemingly stopping in his tracks when he got to where Brown was, waiting for the ball to come into the receiver’s body. Only then did he resume his forward momentum, trying to deliver a ball-jarring hit that didn’t come close to doing any such thing. Phirst down, Philly. Phuck.

Another painful thing about this play was that Chase Blackburn (who, although he hadn’t really been heard from all year, put in a yeoman effort at linebacker yesterday), leapt up in the air to tip the ball but just missed it by a few inches.

Another step of depth, he would have broken it up and the Eagles would have been forced to punt. But no, the play went for a big first down, and the Eagles scored two plays later to take a 17-10 lead.

**

Ok, there’s obviously a lot more to say, some of which is actually positive, but we have a long time to get around to all of that.

I encourage you all to keep checking NYGMen throughout the off-season for thoughts on free agency, the draft, the year that was, and other matters. It was obviously a really rough year, but things can turn around quickly in the NFL, and I honestly think we’re not that far away.

Either way, it’s been fun getting this crew of die-hard G-Men supporters together. Keep bleeding Big Blue, and wait ‘till next year!

“Each weekend I traveled the fifty-odd miles from Glacial Falls to Watertown, where I spent Friday night and all day Saturday in some sustained whisky drinking, tapering off Sunday with a few bottles of beer at The Parrot, eyes fixed on the television screen, cheering for my team. Cheering is a paltry description. The Giants were my delight, my folly, my anodyne, my intellectual stimulation.”

–Frederick Exley, A Fan’s Notes

 

I.

Ok, so the Tiki orgy is over and, however difficult it may seem, it’s time to shed the accumulation of bad vibes from the past couple of months and devote ourselves wholeheartedly to the task at hand. Yes, it’s been a shitty season: Each loss these past eight weeks has felt like its own death, except that in a cruel twist of fate attributable to the astonishing shittiness of the NFC and the complexity of the tie-breaker system, we’ve been constantly revived, week after to week, only to die painful death after painful death.

But all that is a discussion for another day, because we are in the playoffs, four wins away from being Super Bowl champions. No, this doesn’t excuse or mitigate what has happened these past eight weeks, but it presents G-Men nation with an urgent obligation: As Jim Fassel once said, “Whoever wants in can get in. Whoever doesn’t can get out.” I’m in. From this point on, until we lose, it’s all business – we will not divert our attention from the task at hand. Four games. One mission. As another great leader of men, John Bluto Blutarsky, so famously and eloquently said, “Come on, who’s with me?”

II.

Ok, the game itself. As usual, the most comprehensive, analytical, and intelligent preview comes from the smart fellas at Footballoutsiders.com. Check it out, and remember this point by the inestimable Aaron Schatz: “Anyway, as much as people want to just hand this game to the Eagles, do remember that when these two teams just played a couple of weeks ago and the Giants were winning 22-21 with seven minutes left.”

A summary of Shatz’ numerous on-point points in the article:

–It’s not as if you needed the FootballOutsiders’ advanced statistics to tell you this, but Eli has been truly awful over the second half of the season. In the first eight games, Eli averaged 6.2 yards per pass and posted a DVOA of 12.0%.

(Quick tutorial on DVOA – if you want to read more, read my layman’s explanation here [third paragraph], or if you really want to read more, here’s FootballOutsiders’ fleshed-out explanation. But think of it this way: 30% is MVP caliber, 15% is pretty damn good player caliber, 0% is average, -15% is pretty damn bad player caliber, and -30% is bouncer/gas pumper caliber. On defense, the + and – are reversed, which is logical enough, so that a defense with a DVOA of -30% is historically awesome, while one of 30% is the Giants in the past two weeks.)

But over the past eight games, Eli has gained 5.0 yards per pass and posted a DVOA of -14.9%. So basically, your eyes didn’t lie. By any measure, Eli’s gone from pretty good to one of the worst quarterbacks in the league. Eli’s overall DVOA is -1.1%, but if you look at his second half DVOA of -14.9, he’s worse that the yearly DVOAs of such scrubs as Joey Harrington, Jake Plummer, Rex Grossman, and Alex Smith, none of whom have anywhere near the caliber of supporting cast that Eli does.

So what accounts for Eli’s precipitous drop-off? Well, a lot of things, of course, but the loss of Amani Toomer cannot be overlooked. Toomer was lost for the season after our Week 8 win against the Texans, which coincides with Eli’s – and the Giants’ – horrendousness from that point on.

But check this out: As Schatz points out, “Manning’s worst habit is depending on the same receivers over and over.” When Toomer was healthy, Eli threw 12 passes per game to wide receivers not named Plaxico Burress. Since he’s been hurt, Eli has thrown 5 passes per game to non-Plaxican receivers.

This is obviously a considerable indictment on Eli, but it also does not speak so well of the guys that were supposed to fill Amani’s shoes: Tim Carter, David Tyree, and to a lesser extent, Sinorice Moss. After Amani got hurt, I declared it something of a blessing in disguise because it potentially gave us the opportunity to incorporate some speedy playmakers into our offense. How wrong I was. Like Ernie Accorsi, I was seduced by Tim Carter’s speed and I was unreasonably optimistic about this coaching staff’s resourcefulness to incorporate Sinorice Moss’ into the offense.

–It’s been written about ad nauseum, but our best chance of winning the game is to rely on a steady dose of Tiki. The thing we do best on offense is run; the thing the Eagles do worst on defense is stop the run (Though their run defense isn’t bad – their -4.2% DVOA actually means that they’re above average). A reason for optimism is the difficulty the Eagles had in the mid-to-late season at in stopping the run: In three out of six games spanning Week 8 and Week 14, they allowed over 200 yards three times and 183 yards another time.

–Contrary to the popular belief that the Eagles stumbled throughout the season and came alive during the last few weeks, they’ve actually been one of the most consistent teams in the NFL. In the beginning of the season, they were playing some of the best football in the league, but because of freakish losses to Tampa Bay and yes, the G-Men, their record didn’t reflect how good they actually were.

And after a two-game hiccup in the immediate aftermath of the McNabb injury – the ass-whoopings at the hands of the Titans and Colts – Philly has pretty much been playing the same quality ball as they were at the beginning of the year, albeit with different results. Think on this: Philly has posted a positive DVOA in fourteen out of their sixteen games this year.

–Throughout the Andy Reid era, Philly’s offense has been famously predicated on the short pass. But this year, according to Michael David Smith, Reid has adjusted to his personnel at wide receiver – the speedy trio of Reggie Brown, Donte’ Stallworth, and Hank Baskett – and stretched the field more than he ever.

Smith gives him a lot of props on his flexibility, and contrasts this improvisational ability to Colonel Tom’s rigidity:

“If a willingness to change defines the way Reid ran the Eagles this season, his counterpart in Sunday’s game, New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin, couldn’t be more different. Coughlin is infamously set in his ways, and his Giants looked paralyzed by an inability to cope with adversity down the stretch this season.”

–Either way, the Eagles new-found affinity for the deep ball spells trouble for the G-Men, who have been getting killed on deep balls all year. According to FootballOutsiders’ game charting project, Kevin Dockery and Will Demps are both among the top (or bottom — like, the point is they’re bad) ten in the NFL in allowing yards on plays on which the man in coverage. I’m skeptical of this charting project because I don’t know how it accounts for defensive schemes, but this stat is certainly something to think about.

We can all agree that the Giants safeties are bad in pass coverage (although, in Will Demps’ defense, he has looked much, much better in recent weeks), and this is reflected in the fact that we rank 31st in the league on passes intended for tight ends. LJ Smith put up a huge game the first time we saw the Eagles and burnt us on a key play the last time we saw the Eagles, so we gotta be watching out for him.

III.

Just some notes on injuries/personnel:

–Shockey practiced fully yesterday, and will almost definitely play. It’s anybody’s guess, however, how many plays he gets or how effective he will be.

–Rich Seubert is back practicing and will start at left guard, where Grey Ruegamer played last week. Dave Diehl will slide over to left tackle to replace the doghoused Bob Whitfield. Whitfield got some burn at left tackle last week – I can’t find it right now, but I remember reading that it was because someone (either Ruegamer or Diehl) sustained a minor injury. So Whitfield’s still banished, in case you were wondering.

–Corey Webster was placed on injured reserve. What a disappointing year for Webster. We needed him to step up this year, and he didn’t. Now we’re still gonna be counting on him to step up next year.

As Sunday approaches, we’re learning that Shockey will probably play, Trent Cole is talking shit about Eli (gotta love that Post headline), and Deadspin’s A.J. Daulerio has issued a formal declaration of war on G-Men nation. Ready or not, Big Blue will soon head down the Turnpike to take on a team who is playing better than anyone else in the conference. The result will be either a victory for the ages or a swift coup de grace.

But whatever the negativity that has enveloped this season, let’s hope it doesn’t overshadow the greatest offensive performance that I’ve ever seen from a Giant. What Tiki did last week was remarkable, especially under the circumstances. In what may very well be his last memorable act as a football player, the man single-handedly got us into the playoffs.

So, big play by big play, let’s take a closer look at a performance that will go down in Giants history, regardless of what happens on Sunday.

–First Quarter, 3:26: After the Redskins pulled ahead on Randle-El’s end-around bomb to Santana Moss (which, in a single play, totally encapsulated a season’s worth of play in the defensive backfield), we were faced a 3rd and 2 from our own 14. It was a decently big play at the time, especially considering our recent ineptitude in short-yardage situations, and that we had been 0 for our last 16 3rd down attempts.

We were fortunate to completely get away with a delay of game – another thing that seems to happen all the time… fucking frustrating, this Tom administration – when Tiki called a timeout and the refs didn’t realize that the play-clock had already expired, but we took advantage of the break when Tiki took the handoff and went right, gliding through a huge hole created by an wash-down job by Kareem McKenzie – who along with the rest of the offensive line, physically overwhelmed his man at the point of attack – and a resourceful kick-out block by Visanthe Shiancoe, who was lined up to the right of McKenzie.

Once he was through the hole, he made a smooth little cut to the outside to elude safety Vernon Fox, who was charging from his two-deep safety alignment to stop Tiki before he got into the open field. It was to no avail for Fox, as Tiki easily ran through his one-armed attempt at a tackle.

The next man to have a shot at the Teekster was cornerback Ade Jimoh (one of my favorite NFL names, by the way), but Tiki deftly spun out of his tackle attempt – a patented move, this one, where Tiki gives with the momentum of the tackler and leaves him empty-handed.

This 360 degree spin-move gave Tiki the opportunity to gather his momentum and cut to the inside to elude linebacker Lemar Marshall, who, because he was trying to run down the play from behind, had ever so slightly overrun the pirouetting Tiki.

This sweet slickness allowed Tiki to pick up another 12 or so yards before he was brought down, good for a 32-yard gain that took the G-Men all the way to the 46 yard-line. It was Tiki’s first spectacular run of the night, but there would be more to come.

–Second Quarter, 13:20: On 2nd and 10 from the ‘Skins 15, Tiki ran left off tackle through a nice little hole provided by another muscular kick-out block by Visanthe Shiancoe and a gorgeous ‘backer-busting-blast-block by Jim Finn, who was leading Tiki through the hole on the play.

Smelling the end-zone, Tiki accelerated into the secondary, running through a pathetic arm-tackle attempt by number cornerback Carlos Rogers, (who, in his defense, was contending with a Chris Snee block while trying to make the tackle) before dragging Sean Taylor across the plane. Touchdown Tiki; 10-7 Giants.

–Second Quarter, 5:55: Tiki was in a groove at this point – he had almost busted one on the last play, but Sean Taylor crashed in with a big flying shoulder to hold Tiki to an 11-yard gain instead of something much more. On the play, Taylor kind of knocked Tiki on his ass, and like the schmuck that he is, stood over Tiki and made a display about his huge hit, somehow forgetting that Tiki had just ripped off a slick eleven yard run on his team’s ass.

But the Teekster would get his revenge on the very next play, when he took a handoff on the Giants’ 45 and followed Jim Finn through a hole on the left side created by a nice kick-out block by the much-maligned Bob Whitfield and a strong seal by Dave Deihl.

Linebacker Rocky McIntosh stepped into the hole to greet Finn, but Finn blasted him out of it, allowing Tiki to slip into the second level, where his first move was to make a rather abrupt cut to the left to elude safety Reed Doughty, after which he followed a little seam created by a nice block by David Tyree.

But Sean Taylor, who had stopped Tiki in his tracks the play before and had dared to talk shit about it, was rapidly closing on Tiki. No matter, as the sneaky fast Teek-man ran past the spot that Taylor had chosen for the destination of his bee-line. Instead of the huge hit that he wanted, Taylor was left grasping the back of Tiki’s jersey, but Tiki, with those late-career strong legs, sturdily kept his feet as Taylor lost his grip and fell by the wayside. So much for your flying shoulder, dick, and Tiki was off to the races.

The only man left was cornerback, all the way from the backside corner spot, but Tiki had a hustling Plaxico – yes, you read that right – escorting him downfield. Plax nailed the block, and Tiki cruised the rest of the distance for the electrifying 55-yard score.

–Fourth Quarter, 6:25: This was the masterpiece, but first the context: Having already given up two touchdowns and allowed the ‘Skins to cut the lead from 27-7 to 27-21, the G-Men failed to convert a 3rd and 5, and seemed well on their way to choking away one more game in this most gut-wrenching of seasons.

But we caught a break when a defensive holding penalty gave us an automatic first down, and, from mid-field, after a five-yard run from Tiki, we fed our superstar again on a stretch play to the right side, a play designed to go behind pulling linemen Chris Snee and Sean O’Hara.

But there was something amiss about the timing of the play: Whether it was his fault or not, O’Hara took a little too long to get to his block, and Tiki was left kind of suspended on the wing, hoping that O’Hara got to his block before the other defenders closed in on him.

But Tiki did a masterful job riding O’Hara’s back, and in an ingenious display of timing, he waited for O’Hara to wash down his man before making a perfectly-timed, perfectly-angled cut to the outside, somehow emerging from the morass at the line to find himself accelerating into the secondary.

He turned on the jets at this point, running through a flailing arm tackle by Troy Vincent and streaking into the open field for the score. The 50-yard touchdown gave us our 34th point. We went on to win the game 34-28.