September 2008


It was an uneven offensive performance, with our low point total (16) somewhat belied by our 354 yards, more than the 331 we averaged last year.  And because we sat on the lead for much of the second half, you have to think we could have done a bit more.

But the second half was poor, no question about it. After gaining 241 of our 354 yards in the first half, we were out-gained by the Redskins 158 to 113 in the second.  A 9 point lead isn’t comfortable enough to justify this – as is their unfortunate wont, the G-Men seemed to fall asleep on offense with a lead that, based on the flow and feeling of the game, seemed bigger than it actually was.

Alas, we Giants fans have become accustomed to this maddening trait, and I doubt it’s gonna change.  This week, we got lucky – our defense played great and the Redskins were clearly not ready to score points at this point of the season.  But we haven’t been so lucky in the past, and we might not be so lucky next time.

One of the reason the scoreboard didn’t fully reflect our dominance in the first half is that we didn’t fully capitalize in the red zone (I refuse to call it the green zone, Tom), where we came away with only a touchdown and a field goal in three trips.  Last year, we were 13th in the league in red-zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns 54.5 percent of the time compared to the league average of 52 percent.  Based on this percentage, we scored around 2 fewer points on Thursday than what would be “expected.”

Our low point total also owed itself to being stopped on a couple of third and shorts you would expect us to convert: 1) On our second possession, when Ward was met by London Fletcher at the 7 (John Madden aptly called this “a four point tackle); and 2) on our fourth possession, where Jacobs got stopped on a toss sweep, setting up Carney’s 47-yard field goal.

Going forward, these short-yardage situations shouldn’t be a problem.  Last year, we ranked 7th best in the league in a FootballOutsiders stat called “Power” situations – the percentage of runs on either third or fourth down that result in either a first down or a touchdown.  The year before, we ranked 6th.  Basically, we have a big, physical line made for such situations.  (My only complaint is that we seem to assume that Jacobs is our best good short-yardage option, just because he’s big.  When we had Tiki, I thought Tiki was better than Jacobs, even in these situations.  Now I think Bradshaw is.  More on this at some point in the future…)

Eli and the passing game:

Like the entire offense’s performance, Eli gets mixed reviews here.  But his sub-par stat-line – 19- 35, 216 yards, averaging 6.2 yards per attempt – sells his performance a little short, I think.

The guy did a lot of great stuff: a couple of those throws to Plax (including the pump-fake on the 30-yarder on the first drive), the pocket presence on the long 3rd down completion to Sinorice (very nice to see), and a nice play where he stepped up in the pocket and hit Jacobs over the middle come to mind.

There was also his confident demeanor, something not only Madden picked up on, but also my friend Wong, who put it well by saying: “Do you see the balls on Eli now?  He thinks he can pretty much put the ball wherever he wants to now.”

Unfortunately, this confidence verged into recklessness on a few occasions.  I’m not even talking about the interception, on which Boss was actually open – that was just a poorly thrown ball.  What was more troubling were the four near-interceptions resulting from either bad decisions by Eli or miscommunication with the receivers.  One of these four near-picks — when Rogers jumped a route – could have gone back for a touchdown and changed the complexion of the game.

So overall, Eli did some great things and some bad things.

As far as the O-line is concerned, the protection was pretty good in the first half, but pretty bad in the second half.  On each of our first four second half series, the protection badly broke down at least once.  Eli threw his interception with Andre Carter in his face, which might have altered the trajectory of the throw. 

Plax:

What more can you say here?  Toby Hyde, the purveyor of Metsminorsleagueblog.com, pointed out in a non Mets-related note that on passes targeted for Plax, Eli was 10-13 with 10.23 YPA.  On passes targeted for all other receivers, he was 9-21, averaging 3.95 YPA.  This speaks for itself. 

Plax is a great Giant, he was a great signing, and he’s in for a monster year.  More than anything else, the hope of an improved Eli and a healthy Plax is reason to believe we’re gonna be better than last year.

Smith:

First down machine.  Thank God the Panthers took Dwayne Jarrett.

Running game:

Pretty dominant, though less so in the second half.  Still, its’ hard to complain about 4.8 yards a pop over 32 rushing attempts. 

Our run-blocking is probably the best single facet of our team, and is the reason that Jacobs, Ward, Bradshaw are all good contributors.  FootballOutsiders has a stat called Adjusted Line Yards, which seeks to separate the roles of linemen and backs to apportion credit on running plays.  The formula is kind of complicated, but the G-Men ranked 2nd in the league in this stat last year after ranking 4th in the league in 2006.  So basically, the stats — whatever value you put in this particular one — bear it out: our run-blocking is elite. 

As far as the backs go, you have to be happy with what both Jacobs and Ward gave you.  But at the same time, you have wonder why Bradshaw didn’t get in.  Ward and Jacobs are fine, but it’s pretty clear that Ahmad’s our best back – some of those holes were so big, maybe Ahmad could have maybe hit a home run with one of them.  The rotation should be set up around Bradshaw, to keep him healthy and fresh, and not Jacobs.  There will be more on this point as the season goes along.

Andy F., the proprietor of UltimateNYG and a huge Bradshaw supporter himself, dug up something of an explanation of the situation from Coughlin’s press conference: 

“That was my fault.  I didn’t get that rotation worked out the way I really would want to. …  When we were making yards, they were tough yards, and I was pleased with some of the things that were happening with Jacobs and then with Derrick Ward.  Not that I am not pleased with Bradshaw, no that is not the case, but I just didn’t get the right rotation.”

(I don’t really understand this.  Did he not put in Bradshaw because Jacobs and Ward were playing well, or did he fuck up the rotation?)

But give credit to Jacobs and Ward for doing a nice job.  As many have pointed out, Jacobs has looked a lot spryer this year than he did toward the end of last year. Maybe the key to keeping him effective over the course of the season is limiting his carries, which is why his 21 carries were a little bit worrisome and unnecessary.

Also, it’s pretty clear by now that Jacobs is a pretty brutal receiver.  He has stone hands, which not only causes drops, but also precludes him from maneuvering immediately after the catch because he doesn’t bring the ball in smoothly.  It’s almost as if you can see the defenders converging on him as he battles the ball.

Ward did a good job, showing his trademark one-cut, downhill style.  He had a nice, smooth catch ‘n’ run as well, which contrasted with Jacobs’ inability to do the same.

“I want you to get on your feet, I want you to make some noise, I want you to get ready to stomp somebody out and welcome the New York Giants, Super Bowl Champions.”

 –Michael Strahan

I. Preliminary Thoughts on The Game

You have to be somewhere between pleased and very pleased with Thursday’s game. 

Yes, the offense went into the tank during the second half.  As is often the case, we left ourselves vulnerable to a comeback, which the Redskins, with their West Coast Offense not yet fully installed, happened not to be capable of making.

And for all the good things Eli did, he still did a bunch of bad things that showed he hasn’t turned into Peyton during the off-season.

As they always have, the Giants won ugly on Thursday, a trait that being Super Bowl champions will not change.

But the game provided an encouraging early answer to the biggest question mark going into this year.  Our pass rush was just fine without Osi and Strahan.  If the Tuck/Kiwanuka/McDougle combo is not a significant downgrade from the Osi/Strahan/Tuck combo, we should, at absolute worst, be almost as good as we were last year.

And if we improve in the other ways that all of us are expecting – Eli making The Leap, a healthy and potentially dominant Plax, a much better secondary, a better command of Spags’ defense – we should be significantly better, barring injuries.

More specifics on the game will follow as I pour over the game-tape.  In the meantime, here are some miscellaneous thoughts.

 

II. Strahan’s Pre-Game Thing:

How awesome was that?  And what would I have given to be at the Meadowlands?

A lot has been said about Strahan since he retired, so I’ll only add this:

While his outsized, eccentric personality is somewhat un-Giantlike in the traditional sense, winning the ‘Bowl has made him one of the most beloved G-men of all time.  Good for him.  His big ego and gaudy sack totals – both on display in the record-breaking Favre-sack in 2001 – masked his completeness as a defensive end and as a balls-out, team-oriented player.

(I should note that it was originally reported that he made $75,000 for his appearance, but both Strahan and the Giants denied this.)

In New York, for better or worse, you almost have to win a title to validate your career.  If the G-Men had been knocked out last year against Dallas, I think there’s a chance that Strahan might have lived the rest of his life as an underappreciated all-time great.  Fair or not, immortality almost comes only with the ring.  And now Strahan has it.  Could this have been predicted during his holdout last year?

 

II. Some More Thoughts on the Pre-game Intro:

–Spike Lee needs to stop getting credit as “the quintessential New York sports fan.”  He isn’t.  I’ll give him credit on the Knicks – it’s clear he loves them – but that’s it.  As far as football and baseball, he’s been documented to have worn the jerseys of the Giants, Jets, Mets, and Yankees.

The first rule of being a New York sports fan is rejecting the fallacy that it’s possible to be a “New York fan.”  It isn’t.  Being a sports fan is a monogamous relationship – if you don’t love one team and one team only, you don’t love any team.

–For those of you wondering, the Giants of Super Bowl years past who took part in the pre-game ceremony were: Harry Carson, Stacy Robinson, Karl Nelson, Brad Benson, Billy Ard, Howard Cross, Rodney Hampton, O.J. Anderson, Carl Banks, and Mark Bavaro.  Great job by those guys.

But no L.T.?  No Simms?  Kind of a bad job.

 

III. Giants Fans

Strahan referred to Giants fans as being “by far the best fans in all of sports.”  Frankly, I disagree.

When I was growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, it seemed like the Meadowlands was an intimidating place to play.  There were the winds, the tough D, and supportive fans who intimidated other teams with their deep-throated, thunderous New York passion.

But for a while now, and especially during the Coughlin era (pre-Patriots regular season finale last year), it seems Giants fans have become an easily-quieted, early-to-leave, and an overall counterproductive bunch.  Before the December 29th of last year, the fans took a distant, judging, and antagonistic attitude towards the team. 

And the team realized this.  Let’s be clear: The whole Antonio Pierce-led “Nobody respects us mantra” isn’t directed at the national media, but much more the local media… and the fans.  The “Road Warriors” mentality was borne out of the G-Men feeling unloved in their own home.

Now, a lot of the scorn the Coughlin-era Giants received since the promise of early 2005 has been warranted.  The team had been maddeningly inconsistent, and until last December 29th, they always could be counted on to fade down the stretch.

Here’s hoping the upshot of last year’s run is a love-affair with this team, rather than an entitlement complex.

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