August 2007


With his soul having been thoroughly searched, Michael Strahan is coming back for at least another season in Big Blue (and hopefully one or two more after that without this ridiculous bullshit.)

It couldn’t have come a moment too soon, and in fact, probably came around a week too late: Are they just gonna bump Justin Tuck out of the Week 1 starting lineup in favor of a guy who has but a week of practice under his belt? Probably not, which means it would have been nice if he had come to camp just a little bit earlier.

But I’m sure it won’t take him too long to get back to being the Strahan of old. Remember: he’s been injury prone the past three years, but he really hasn’t lost any effectiveness at all. By Week 2, this ridiculousness will be 90 percent forgotten about and we’ll have a pretty sick defensive end trio (threesome?) in Strahan, Osi, and Tuck.

They’ll all play, too: apparently, one of the many reasons for Strahan’s holdout is that his feelings were hurt after Reese told him he wanted to rotate him out on some plays in favor of Tuck.

So welcome back, Mike. We’re gonna need you. Now strap it on and let’s play ball.

I’ll get to some thoughts on last night’s “game” in a bit, but in the meantime, here are some entertaining YouTube clips.

* An Auburn-era Brandon Jacobs scores a touchdown against Western Kentucky. Look at him deliver a gratuitous blow to the dude six yards deep in the endzone.

*The G-Men are Coming. A preview of the 2007 season to the tune of the “The Few. The Proud. The Marines.” song.

*A Steve Smith at USC montage – highlights and hip-hop. The dude’s pretty smooth.

*NFL Network’s pre-draft scouting report on Aaron Ross. This has nothing to do with Ross’s unimpressive performance last night, but don’t these things always paint such a misleading, over-positive portrait?

I am trying to be optimistic on the Giants. Most every preseason publication, however, hasn’t joined me in my valiant effort.

To wit, I give you FootballOutsiders’ Russell Levine, from his “Over/Under” report for the NFC based on both Vegas odds and FootballOutsiders/Pro Football Prospectus projections. By the way, Levine is a Giants fan:

New York Giants (+/- 8 wins) [Vegas]

PFP 2007 Projection: 7 wins

I’m going to try and talk about this in an objective manner. The Giants have many issues. They play the third-most difficult schedule in football. Their best offensive player retired and their best defensive player has been strongly considering it. Their most important player has seen his development stagnate. His blind side is going to be protected by the Giants’ former backup guard. Their corners are alternately old, injured, mediocre or inexperienced. They have two strong safeties, one of whom will need to play free safety. Oh, and they have a lame-duck coach who no-one believes in. Deliver us Jake Long, please. Under with extreme prejudice.

(FYI: Jake Long is a left tackle from Michigan who is widely considered the Joe Thomas of the 2008 draft.)

So Levine isn’t quite feeling the ‘Men this year, and he’s not alone: arguments you’ll hear from people in the office or at bars will probably revolve around at least one of his arguments (mostly the one about Eli – it’s kinda crazy how much people love to hate on him.)

But I’m trying to be optimistic, which, at this point in the season, is not too hard for me. I may be deluded, but I expect good things from this team.

So to respond point-by-point to Levine, here’s what I think:

 

1) “They play the third-most difficult schedule in football.”

I read this when I purchased my copy of Pro Football Prospectus 2007, and I pondered why this was so. Playing in the NFC East – maybe the toughest divisions in football, with the possible exception of the AFC North – surely has something to do with it.

But why, I wondered, did PFP think the Giants schedule was so much harder than that of the Eagles (18th hardest schedule, according to PFP), who won the division and should therefore have a tougher out-of-division slate?

One of the reasons was that PFP projected the Giants to be pretty bad and the Eagles to win 11 games, which means that the Giants have two games against a very good-to-great team while the Eagles have two games against a below average team.

Other than that, the Giants and Eagles play eight of the same ten out-of-division opponents: the Packers, Lions, Jets, Bears, Vikings, Dolphins, Patriots, and Bills.

The non-common opponents are as follows: the Giants play the Falcons and the 49ers, while the Eagles play the Saints and the Seahawks.

Which to you sounds like a tougher slate? A team that made the NFC Championship game and one that took the eventual NFC Champions to overtime? Or a feel-good 7-9 team that looked better towards season’s end but still posted the 27th best DVOA in the league (49ers) and the Mexico-less disaster that is the Atlanta Flacons?

So I guess the question is: Is the difference between the Giants and the Eagles that great to make up the difference of the two non-common opponents? Apparently so.

The point of all this is that you shouldn’t get too freaked out by Levine’s claim about the Giants’ tough schedule. If you disregard the fact that PFP thinks we’ll suck while the Eagles will be a Super Bowl contender – which, in my preseason optimism, I have no choice but to do – we actually have an easier schedule than the team with the 18th hardest schedule in the league.

 

2) “Their best offensive player retired and their best defensive player has been strongly considering it.”

Let’s take this in two parts:

1) Tiki

The loss of Tiki will be hard to overcome, no doubt. In good conscience, I can’t make a case that Jacobs will be anywhere near as good as the Teekster.

But we have to hope that the improved play of the offensive line, the return of Amani, and a significantly better season from Eli will help offset Tiki’s loss.

And there’s reason to think all three will happen.

People tend to forget that Petitgout was injured and not on the field during our nosedive last year: when we melted down, Bob Whitfield our left tackle, not Petitgout. So the question is not how Diehl compares to Petitgout, but how he compares to Whitfield. You have to think that he’s an upgrade.

Amani will be back and he will be good – he’s looked good during preseason. And Steve Smith will be better than Tim Carter or David Tyree, who became our number two and three receivers last year after Amani went down.

Now, Eli. He will be better too, at least because of the reasons above: 1) the line won’t fall apart on him like it did during the second half of last year; and 2) his receivers will be better.

He is also a year older and wiser. He also can’t possibly play worse than he did towards the end of last year. He also has established that he will never, ever be Peyton, and will therefore benefit from the reduced expectations.

All of this will help offset Tiki’s loss, though not completely. Tiki was awesome, and our offense will be worse than it was for the whole of last year.

But is this such an indictment? Does this mean our offense will suck? No, not really. Last year, our offense was top-third in terms of DVOA, ranking 9th in the league. Let’s say that because of the loss of Tiki, we slip to middle-of-the-pack, to 16th? Is this so atrocious?

No, it’s not. It’s average. So stop fucking saying that we’re gonna be so bad.

2) Strahan

Plus, I think our defense will be better than it was last year. People tend to forget that it tends to hurt your defense if you lose two of the best defensive ends in the league, and that we’re essentially adding Osi and Strahan to last year’s defense.

(Oh, you don’t think Strahan’s coming back? Well, by the time you read this, he probably already has. And he’s gonna be really good. And you didn’t think he was coming back, and if you think he’s not gonna be really good, then you’re stupid.)

Justin Tuck will also play a bigger role, and he’s good. And our linebackers will be better because we won’t be subbing guys in for the injured, scrubby likes of LaVar and Emmons.

And because our pass rush will be so much better than it was last year, our secondary will be less exposed. It won’t be great or even above-average, mind you, but if it is even average, our defense as a whole can be solidly above-average.

 

3) “Their most important player has seen his development stagnate.”

From above:

Now, Eli. He will be better too, at the very least because of the above reasons: 1) the line won’t fall apart on him like it did over the second half of last year; and 2) his receivers will be better.

He is also a year older and wiser. He also can’t possibly play worse than he did towards the end of last year. He also has established that he will never, ever be Peyton, and will therefore benefit from the reduced expectations.

 

4) “His blind side is going to be protected by the Giants’ former backup guard.”

That’s not fair. Dave Diehl has been a solidly above average lineman for quite some time. At the very least, you have to think that he’ll protect Eli’s blind side better than Bob Whitfield did.

But will he protect it better than Luke Petitgout? That’s the million-dollar Jerry Reese gamble.

Not many people think so, but Reese does: (quote courtesy of NYGMen commentator Cody.)

“People are so worried about left tackle…I think that’s so overrated. People act like (Luke) Petitgout was the second coming. He never made the Pro Bowl, and I don’t think he ever was a first alternate. Now all of a sudden he’s the savior? That’s ridiculous. I don’t think we’re that bad off without Luke Petitgout. He was not a star left tackle. He was a solid left tackle on some occasions and other times he wasn’t. Luke has been a marginal player for a long time.”

So the question is this: does this above quote say more about Luke Petitgout or Jerry Reese?

 

5) “Their corners are alternately old, injured, mediocre or inexperienced.”

This is pretty much true. I’m not sure what Levine means by “alternately,” but let’s look at each corner and see who he’s talking about.

Madison: old (33), mediocre, and injured;

R.W.: old? (30), and mediocre;

Webster: inexperienced, mediocre, and possibly injured (although reports about his hip have been positive recently);

Ross: inexperienced;

Dockery, Underwood, McPhearson et al: inexperienced, mediocre;

So can we fashion a decent group out of these guys? Probably not, but they’re not that bad.

Ross is a first-round draft pick, so maybe he’ll be above-average by the end of the year. Webster has had all kinds of injuries in his first two years: can he break out? I don’t know – I hope so. R.W. wasn’t terrible last year. And Madison is apparently a big fan of Spagnuolo’s press coverage schemes – in his second year with Big Blue, maybe he’ll improve.

The secondary really can’t get worse than it was last year. And with a pass rush that you have to think will drastically improve, maybe this unit won’t be the glaring liability that people think it will.

 

6) “They have two strong safeties, one of whom will need to play free safety.”

Ok, now this guy is talking about safeties. I know there are plenty of reasons to hate on the 2007 G-Men, but he’s talking about safeties? C’mon – this is a little ridiculous.

On the other hand, there’s a legitimate question here: do Gibril and Butler have the speed/range to cover the deep halves?

If not, let’s get J.R. Reed in this piece!

 

7) “Oh, and they have a lame-duck coach who no-one believes in.”

Ok, this isn’t nearly as relevant a point as people make it out to be, and here’s why:

All football teams play hard at the beginning of the season. It’s only towards the end of the season, if they’re doing poorly, that they’ll give up on a coach, something that is more likely to happen if the coach is a lame duck.

This is exactly what happened to the Giants last year: they pretty much shat the bed for lame-duck Colonel Tom towards the end of the season. And that’s why NYGMen was pretty pissed when they kept him around for another year.

But he’s back. And despite the Strahan bullshit, and despite the Eli-Tiki bullshit, it’s a new season and there’s a new sense of optimism surrounding this team. Dare I say it, but for now, last year is pretty much forgotten.

And it will be even more forgotten about if we go into Dallas and beat the Cowboys. And it will be even more forgotten about if we take care of business at home against the Packers the following week.

And suddenly, no one will be talking about Colonel Tom being a lame duck – they’ll be talking about this team getting its shit together – finally – and making a playoff run.

So really, the status of Colonel Tom is secondary. If and when this team ever does give up on him, it will be when all is lost already. But if all is not lost already, they will not give up on him.

Robert Douglas Injured:

Robert Douglas tore the meniscus in his knee, which will cause him to miss “several weeks,” according to this New York Times report. It’s hard for me to comment on this because I didn’t get much of a sense of how Douglas was doing – he seemed competent catching balls out the backfield, and that’s about all I saw.

But here is the upshot: Reuben Droughns and rookie free agent tight end Michael Matthews will full in at fullback in the meantime.

With all due respect to Douglas, anything that gets Droughns out of the tailback rotation has to be considered a good thing. The only thing to recommend Droughns is that he’s a known quantity: he has performed in this league in the past, the thinking goes, so we can be assured he won’t kill us.

Yes, we can be assured he won’t kill us, but we can also be assured that he won’t help us. To borrow a phrase from the Baseball Prospectus guys, the guy is the very definition of replacement level talent.

Yes, he played on a brutal offense and ran behind a terrible offensive line, but his 3.4 yards per carry over 220 carries last year was no small feat of awfulness. Also consider that in a starting role, he scored but 4 touchdowns while fumbling 5 times.

If you want to talk in terms of Footballoutsiders stats, Droughns’ -20.1% DVOA ranked 51st in the league among running backs, while his -6.8 DPAR – an accumulation stat, as opposed to the rate stat DVOA – ranked 53rd. Pretty awful, anyway you look at it.

To translate back into English, his longest play from scrimmage last year was 24 yards. At 29 years-old, the guy has absolutely no upside.

Why waste carries on Droughns? Give me either Derrick Ward or Ahmad Bradshaw.

Ward raised eyebrows during the first two preseason games with his speed, which he showcased both on runs from scrimmage and kick-returns.

The guy’s been injury-prone his whole career, and it’s anybody’s guess if he can become an above average runner. But he’s got that speed-burst, which is more than can be said about Droughns.

The guy I’m more excited about, however, is Bradshaw. From what we’ve seen, this guy is an instinctive runner.

He’s not fast in the open-field sense and he’s not particularly powerful, but he’s quick (“more quick than fast,” as the saying goes), and has been running hard, decisively, and to the right spots so far.

Either one of these guys will be a better “change of pace” from Jacobs than Droughns, who isn’t fast or quick. Let’s take a flyer on one of them – they can’t be any worse than Droughns. Maybe we might have something.
Oh, and as for Droughns moving to fullback: if he’s capable of blocking, I’m fine with it. It’s not that he can’t be on the field; it just makes no sense to give him a sizable percentage of our carries.

**

David Tyree Injured:

Since his high-water mark in 2005, when he made the Pro Bowl as a special teams ace and looked competent as a receiver, it’s been a rough stretch for Tyree, who was limited because of neck injury last year and just broke his left wrist against the Jets, which will take him out of action for up to six weeks.

This is really too bad. Tyree is still a huge asset on special teams, and I was psyched to see him team up with Chase Blackburn and Zach DeOssie.

Tyree’s injury clears the way for Anthony Mix to make the roster as a wide receiver. You’d like think that the fifth wide receiver is a pretty inconsequential roster spot, but since Amani is coming off an injury (though he has looked really good in the games so far), Plaxico hasn’t played yet, and Sinorice has yet to distinguish himself, Mix may actually play a role.

Eli has looked great:

Fair is fair. Eli was one of the worst quarterbacks I’ve seen this side of Dan Reeves-era Tommy Maddox over the second half of both last year and 2005, but you can’t deny that he’s shown flashes throughout his tenure in blue.

Including this preseason. Over the past couple of games, he’s gone 10-13 and then 17-26. Please don’t quibble with the stats here: he’s been really fucking good. Even if you’ve been completely disappointed in him so far, you have to admit that he’s not a lost cause.

He’s 26 now, and we’ve all agreed that he’s never gonna be Peyton. Would you sign for “Above Average” this year? I would, if he stepped it up to “Good” and then “Very Good” by the time he was 28. Let’s not forget that Phil Simms was God-Awful until he was 29 (1984), after which he was Very Good until he retired after his age-38 year season.

So I guess the question now is: would you sign for Eli to turn into Phil Simms but not Peyton Manning? Ummmm… yes. Definitely. Please.

(I really don’t think Eli’s beef with Tiki beef is especially important, but yes, I have some thoughts on the matter. I’ll get to those thoughts in a subsequent post.)

**

 

The deal with Jacobs:

If Coughlin, Gilbride and co. ever get a better sense of Brandon Jacobs’ strengths and weaknesses, he can become one of the best backs in the league. If they don’t, he’ll be anywhere from average to slightly above average.

Here’s what I’m talking about: Despite the fact that he weighs 265 pounds, Jacobs really isn’t such a good inside runner.

On inside runs against the Jets, he kind of self-consciously scrunched himself down, trying to “run-low” as he came through the hole. That’s a fine idea because you don’t want to be too hittable a target, but Jacobs seems to lose a lot of his power when he assumes this position (pardon the expression).

All in all, he actually looked a little tentative on inside runs: he wasn’t “getting low and bringing it,” but was rather getting low in a defensive way to avoid blows.

Which brings me to the conclusion that at this point, Brandon Jacobs is a much better runner in space than in tight quarters. I know, he’s 265 pounds, and you should be able to ram him into the line and expect results. And to a certain extent, you can: he finishes runs off well, and can be counted on to combine this ability with his sheer length to generate at least two or three more yards after initial contact.

But explode through holes he does not. Right now, it’s far to say that between-the-tackles running is actually the weakest aspect of his game.

But when he gets in space, watch the fuck out. His pure speed takes over, his feet become smarter, his excellent spatial instincts emerge, and he brings the explosive power. The Giants should realize that he’s better in space than between the tackles: without telegraphing plays, they should get him on pitches, stretch-plays, and screens – he dropped a pass Saturday, but he’s a smooth pass-catcher.

But stop using him as a Mike Alstot, low-gear, between the tackles guy. He’s just not that.

Maybe, however, as he gets more experience running between the tackles, he’ll know when to run higher and when to run lower. He’ll be able to see if it’s gonna be a short-yardage play that requires getting low and grinding – which is not his best quality – or if it has the potential to be a home run, which would lend itself to the patented Jacobs Gallop.

Ironically, the 265-pound running back is more of a big play guy than a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust guy.

 

**

 

Reuben Droughns is totally uninspiring:

At his best, the guy is competent. At his worst, he’s thoroughly depressing. The aptly-named Droughns is nothing but a worker bee: Let’s hope that the coaching staff realizes that this guy’s a stiff, cuts bait immediately, and goes with someone with a glimmer of talent as our #2 back.

Derrick Ward has really shown something, as has Ahmad Bradshaw. Both of these guys are younger, better options than the over-the-hill Droughns, whose rep is staked on two 1,000-yard seasons in 2004 and 2005.

If you’re reading this blog, you probably realize that the 1,000-yard season is one of the most meaningless stats out there. Rushing for 1,000 yards as a team’s starting running back takes about as much skill as driving in 100 runs as the cleanup hitter for the Yankees: in other words, it doesn’t mean shit, and is completely a function of right place, right time.

**

 

‘Nuke has come a long way in a little time at OLB:

What a learning curve! In the first game, the over-pursuit was glaringly obvious. Now he’s playing smart, which, in addition to his ill athleticism, is his best athletic quality.

There was a play in the first quarter yesterday where he got tied up in a block and looked to be out of a play coming in his direction, but he disentangled himself and smartly jumped to the outside-contain spot, causing Leon Washington to cut back into oncoming pursuit (2nd and 10 from the Jets 30, at 4:24 of the 1st Quarter).

On the other hand, on the previous play, he was slow to the react to the fullback leaking out on a pass play, who wound up wide open. The FB wound up dropping the ball (while looking extremely uncoordinated), but if he were a better athlete, it could have turned into a big gain at ‘Nuke’s expense.

Also, I’m a little concerned that his combination of lankiness/inexperience will make him an easy target for low blocks. He has long legs, and if he hesitates for just a second, it’s enough time for a lineman of fullback to get into his shins and slow him up. Just something to watch.

 

**

 

Tynes and Huston: will one of these guys be minimally competent?:

Like Petitgout, nobody really liked Feely. He was the type of guy that an organization looking to change its vibe just has to get rid of, kind of like Pat Burrell is in Philadelphia.

Feely may not have been great, but at least he was assuredly competent. But can we guarantee that either Tynes or Huston is gonna be competent this year?

(The funny thing is that both Petitgout and Feely permanently fell out of favor during that Seattle game. Mental meltdowns will have that effect on a fanbase.)

**

Robbins and Cofield are good:

In the first preseason game last year, Jamal Lewis ran roughshod over the Giants defense for a couple of series, prompting a spastic spate of articles about the defensive tackle position being in need of an upgrade.

This year, our shitty performance against the Panthers inspired the same unfounded panic, and even the signing of The Guy Nick Saban Reduced to Tears.

The fact is, however, that our defensive tackles are solid. Robbins is a playmaker, and has emerged as one of the better guys in the league. Cofield was solid as a rookie and will be better in his second year.

If you want to talk stats, the Giants ranked eleventh in the league in DVOA last year in run defense, meaning that, basically, they were better than two out of every three teams.

If only every unit on our team were this good!

**

Injuries:

Mitchell: I’ve really liked what I’ve seen so far. He’s smart, solid, and athletic – not an impact player but a perfectly fine complementary part. After the frustrating Emmons and LaVar experiments, another absentee starter at OLB is the last thing we need. At least Torbor won’t kill us if he has to fill in.

Madison: Despite the athletic pick in the Ravens game, he’s thoroughly over-the-hill and injury prone. Webster, entering his third year, is healthy now. I’d just as soon see what we’ve got with him.

Shockey: He’ll aways be nicked up, if not worse. It’s his body-type (similar to that of Jacobs) and the way he plays (also similar to Jacobs). Unfortunately, Shiancoe’s gone and the promising Darcy Johnson, who was slated to be the backup, got hurt in the Panthers game.

Rookie sixth-round pick Kevin Boss hasn’t impressed, but this other rookie, Michael Matthews, has looked pretty good.

Jennings: Colorful guy, great story, but with all due respect to the guy’s Achilles tendon and dreams, does this injury really matter? As was proven against the Jets, Anthony Mix has more talent. Should there be a roster battle between Mix and Tyree, we’d be crazy to part ways with one of the best special teamers in the NFL.

Demps: After a good second half to last year, he was having a great camp. He lost his starting job to James Butler (actually, Butler will supplant Gibril at Free Safety, who will replace Demps at Strong Safety), but he was a solid vet, a competent NFL player who provided depth.

Which we need, because I’m not entirely sold on Butler – he seemed either late or out of position on that early touchdown to pass Washington.

I’ll tell you who I like, though: J.R. Reed (not to be confused with Herman Reid, Jr., aka J.R. Reid, of 80s UNC Tar Heels fame.) That was a pretty sick pick he made – now that’s range from the safety position!

Plax: He sat out last night with the flu. His ankle – which is a different ankle from the one he had offeseason surgery on – is fine. He’s just playing it cautious. Don’t be worried.