“The Giants are a new team.  This isn’t even the same team I played on.”

–Michael Strahan

(Note: Today’s entry will deal mostly with the offense.  A separate one on the defense will follow.)

The Best Team in the NFL:

Wow….  Four weeks into the season, the G-Men are the best team in the NFL.  This isn’t a guarantee of another title or even an especially bold statement, but rather a statement of fact.  If this were college football, we would be Number 1.  Does it mean anything?  No, not really – it’s a long season, there are always injuries, etc.  But isn’t this enjoyable?

Today’s game was probably the most dominant Giants performance many of us have ever seen.  At the end of the game, Fox posted a graphic saying the 44-6 margin was our largest since 1972.  But this neglected two playoff blowouts: 49-3 over the 49ers in ’86, and 41-0 over the Vikings in 2000.

Still, I don’t think we’ve ever opened up a can quite like we did today.  In the Niner game, we caught a huge break when Rice inexplicably fumbled, untouched, while streaking toward the endzone for what would have been a first quarter touchdown putting the Niners up 10-7.  The fumble completely changed the complexion of a game that might have gone differently had Rice not fumbled. Yes, we went on to destroy them, but there was a moment there when things looked dicey.

In the Viking game, two rather flukish events – a coverage breakdown on the Hilliard touchdown, followed by a fumbled kickoff – caused the game to be over before it began.  After five plays from scrimmage, it was already 14-0.  At that point, it couldn’t not be a blowout.

But this game was different.  This wasn’t a case of us catching some breaks or springing a couple of big plays.  We whooped their asses through and through, play after play.  The 2008 Giants are really, really good.

The O-Line:

There’s a lot of praise to go around here, but let’s start with the offensive line.  The Seahawks never had a fighting chance in this game because their front seven was no match for our big men, or as my high school football coach would call them, our “fatties.” 

At best, the Giants are a team for whom the run sets up the pass.  On the game’s second play, Jacobs slammed forward for 6.  On the next play, he galloped untouched through a gaping hole for a 44-yard gain.   On the next play, Eli hit Hixon for our first touchdown.

It was pretty much like that all game.  We ran at will, then we passed at will.  When they blitzed, we either picked it up perfectly or Eli maneuvered well in the pocket to elude it.  The first of many game balls goes to the fatties up front, who comprise one of the elite run-blocking lines in the NFL and are no slouch against the pass either.

I’ve discussed FootballOutsiders stats for offensive lines before, but let me point back to one called Adjusted Line Yards, which is meant to isolate the contributions of the offensive line and the running back on a particular running play.  Yes, it’s an imperfect stat, but in the case of the Giants line, it jibes with what we observe with our eyes: Since 2005, the Giants have ranked 10th, 4th, and then 2nd last year in Adjusted Line Yards.  Coming into today’s game, they ranked 3rd in the NFL, a ranking that should jump after today’s ass-whooping.

More praise in the analytical community for the Giants run-blocking came last week from ESPN columnist K.C. Joyner, who is now contributing a weekly piece for the Times’ Fifth Down Blog.

According to Joyner, the Giants offensive line laps the field in terms of the types of blocking schemes they employ, along with their willingness to run plays to either side of the field.

“The reason they are able to do this is because both their guards are capable of executing a pull block,” Joyner writes, anticipating the awesome job today by Seubert and Snee.

“But the Giants also take that concept one step further by pulling all of their linemen.  Most teams won’t pull their center or tackles, but the Giants have don’t that on nine different plays this year.”

That covers the run-blocking, but the pass-blocking is good too.  Footballoutsiders has a stat – and this one’s not nearly as esoteric – called Adjusted Sack Rate, which basically takes the number of sacks and intentional groundings and divides by the number of passing plays.  The premise of the stat is that it’s a better gauge than the raw sack total.

Since 2005, the Giants ranked 8th, 7th, and then 11th last year in the category.  This year they rank 9th.

So, Giants fans, it’s time to appreciate this group.  A big NYGMen shout-out goes to Dave Diehl, Rich Seubert, Shaun O’Hara, Chris Snee, and Kareem McKenzie (who missed most of today’s game with a concussion and was replaced by Kevin Boothe, who actually made two notable mistakes).

Eli:

Eli was absolutely fantastic from the get-go, and earned himself a much-deserved second half rest.  For the game, his stats were great – a 136.6 QB rating.  But in the first half, during which the game was sealed, he was virtually flawless.  After starting off the half a perfect 7-7, he wound up 15-18 for 224 yards and a touchdown.

Among the good things about Eli’s performance was the tremendous pocket presence he displayed.  Yes, the protection was very good overall – save for a Patrick Kerney sack and forced fumble at the expense of Kevin Boothe – but Eli was great in the pocket and great at exploiting the weak spots in the defense created by Seattle’s blitzes.

He was also especially demonstrative today in terms of pre-snap reads, looking positively Peyton-esque in his on-field assertiveness.  And his passes to running backs – often a weak point in his game – were, with the exception of an overthrow of Hedgecock in the second quarter, pretty much all on-target.

Four games into the season, Eli has a 61% completion percentage, significantly better than his 55% career rate.  He’s averaging 7.15 yards per attempt, significantly better than the 6.3 yards he averaged coming into this year.  And his rating is 91.1, leaps and bounds better than his 74.4 career rating.  Can you say “The Leap,” anyone?

The following are some good plays he made in the first half that show some of the headiness I talked about above:

–On the touchdown to Hixon on the first drive, Eli did a good job “looking off” the one deep safety before hiring a perfect ball to a wide-open Domenic Hixon.  (The Seahawks would come to regret putting Kelly Jennings, their second-best corner, on Hixon, our most dangerous, if not our best, non-Plaxico receiver.)  He later did the same thing on a third quarter touchdown pass to Moss.

–On a 2nd and 6 from the 44 on our second drive, Eli did a nice job stepping up to avoid a blitzing Lofa Tatupu before firing a strike between two defenders to Amani Toomer for a 22-yard gain.

–Two plays later, with Tatupu blitzing again, Eli stood in the pocket and waited until Tatupu was just about to hit him, the better to allow Toomer to get separation downfield against safety Jordan Babineax.  Toomer got separation, and Eli got the ball to him for a 29-yard gain to the 3, setting up a Jacobs touchdown to make it 14-3.

–On the next drive he, hit Hixon deep for a 41-yarder on a play-action, which set up our field goal to make it 17-3.

(Although on this pass, with all the time in the world, Eli waited an extra half-beat to unleash his throw, which caused Hixon to outrun the outer limit of Eli’s arm strength.  He’s done this before, and he did this a little bit later on a pass to Moss.  That’s an area he can improve upon.  This drive also saw Eli overthrow Toomer – high, as usual – on a play that could have set up a 1st and goal but instead forced us to settle for a field goal.  But we’re really nitpicking here…)

 –On the next drive, the Giants fourth, Eli kept things a rollin’ with a play action 19-yarder to Smith (a little high, but Smith did a great job going up and getting it.  His body-control is ridiculous).  Later in the drive, deep in Seahawks territory, he drilled Hixon on a come-back for 1 13-yard first down, setting up first and goal from the 1.  Jacobs took it in on the next play, giving the G-Men a 24-3 lead, and the game was over.

The Receivers:

Hixon: What a ballplayer this kid is, and what an asset for our future.  How in the world could the Broncos let him get away? 

Fortunately, the concussion doesn’t seem too serious: I heard him interviewed after the game, and he said he didn’t go back in because of precautionary reasons.  He seemed pretty coherent saying it, too.

Hopefully when Plax is back next week, we can get him back to returning punts.  R.W. actually did a pretty good job today – who on this team, in any phase, didn’t? – but it would be nice to have a dangerous guy back there.

Amani: Old reliable.  What more is there to say about this guy?  What a great Giant.

Sinorice: Shake, shake, shake, Sinorice!  It’s been an tough-luck career thus far, and who knows how long he’s gonna be with us – when Tyree comes back, if we’re still healthy, he would seem to be the odd man out.  But if we have to part ways at some point, let’s just hope the Cowboys, Eagles, or Redskins don’t pick him up.  He clearly has some talent.

Manningham: It was nice to see him doing some things.  That was a nifty little run on that quick-hitter in the second quarter, and a good job nearly toasting the defender and drawing the pass interference.  He also made a tackle on special teams.

Who’d a thunk it?  The G-Men are stacked at the receiver position.

The Running Backs:

Jacobs: I’ve been critical of Jacobs on this blog, but I have to hand it to him: he played a great game today – it’s hard to take issue with 136 yards, at 9.1 yards per.

It’s possible to say that Jacobs’ performance wasn’t all that impressive given the dominance of the offensive line, but I think this wouldn’t acknowledge Jacobs’ best attribute as a runner: He’s completely unstoppable once he gets a head of steam going.  Given the holes the offensive line opened up, Jacobs was the man for the job.

I also have to admit that he has looked a lot spryer this year.  Some portion of my negative impression of him was based on how lethargic he looked in last year’s playoffs, but perhaps some of this can be avoided this year if we use him a little less.

Ward: This guy is just straight-up solid.  He’s pretty much rates high in every running back scouting category across the board except maybe elusiveness, an unnecessary quality in the see-hole, hit-hole NFL: He hits the hole quickly and hard, he’s got a good burst, he runs with a lot of power, and he’s a good receiver.

Bradshaw: The guy gets in during garbage time when everyone knows a run is coming, and he still breaks off a ridiculous run.  This guy is so good.  I’ll keep saying it every week: FREE AHMAD!

Gilbride:

Last but certainly not least here.  Gilbride has been pilloried by many Giants bloggers in recent weeks, many of whom believe he holds back a very talented Giants offense from achieving true awesomeness.  Whether or not that’s true is still to be determined, but at this point, it’s hard to sneeze at scoring 40-plus points half of the time.

What impressed me in this game was his aggressive, pedal-to-the-medal play-calling, which continued until the Seahawks were dead and buried.  Kudos to Gilbride for bucking the Giants’ historical trend of sitting on leads that don’t warrant such complacency.