October 2008


I had the tremendous honor as a Giants fan today of meeting and chatting with George Martin, who played defensive end in the Giants’ 3-4 alignment from 1977 through 1988.

Martin, a good but not great player, was perhaps the biggest “Johnny on the Spot” in NFL history.  Before Jason Taylor surpassed him in 2006, he held the record for most points scored by a defensive lineman as a defensive lineman, with 42.  In a critical late-season battle against the Broncos in 1986, Martin tipped and intercepted a John Elway pass before rumbling 78 yards to paydirt, one of the most memorable plays of that memorable season.  And in Super Bowl XXI, he sacked John Elway for a safety to shave the Broncos lead to 10-9 before halftime, a portent of the Giants second-half dominance that was to follow.

As narrator Pat Summerall said in the video Giants Among Men about the ’86 season, “Whenever opportunity knocked, Martin seemed to be at the right place at the right time.”

Martin – who now works as an executive for AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company – is back in the news these days.  To raise money for surviving 9/11 first responders who have gotten screwed out of their proper medical benefits, he walked across America in his well-publicized “Journey for 9/11.”  Over the span of 11 months, he traveled 3,003 miles from New York to San Diego, raising $2.7 million in the process.

Now here’s where I come into this story: Martin both kicked off and concluded the journey at this charter school in Williamsburg, which is part of my beat for my job as a local newspaper reporter.  The reason for this is because the original donation he received – of $911,000 – came from a guy named Joe Rich, the aptly-named head of the Beginning with Children foundation, which runs the charter school.

So at the press conference today, I approached Martin, a deeply religious man, and told him the story of the Genesis of my Giants fandom.

It was November 23rd, 1986, and the G-Men were trailing 6-3 in the second quarter to the Denver Broncos, who had driven inside the Giants 20 and appeared on the verge of taking control of the game.  In the Meadowlands crowd that day was a 6-year old named Greg.  Attending his first football game, he nervously watched John Elway drop back to pass and threw a flat-pass in the direction of running back Sammy Winder.

But before it could get there, George Martin stretched out his 6-foot-4 frame and tipped the ball to himself before snaring it out of the air.  From there, he made his way down the left sideline, accompanied by an increasingly large cavalcade of blockers.

Elway himself caught up to Martin, but Martin, while holding the football like a loaf of bread with one hand, rudely dispatched the equine-visaged pretty boy with the other.  From there his path was clear for an exhilarating 78-yard touchdown, which sent the Meadowlands into a frenzy and swung momentum of the game to the G-Men, who would eventually prevail, 19-16, on a last-second field goal by Raul Allegre.

And thus began my relationship with the Giants.

Martin got a huge kick out of the story, smiling and nodding along with me I told it and saying, “You’re kidding me?” when I finished.

For several minutes, we chatted about the Giants and his 9/11 walk.  He was the star of the event so I didn’t want to take up too much of his time, but he never made me feel like I was imposing on him.  He was one of those guys who makes an effort to look you in the eye, but not in a super-intense, neurotic way.  Rather, it was a respectful and warm gesture that conveyed he was interested in what I was saying.

I asked him what the secret to that ’86 team was.  He replied, “Chemistry.  Every unit, whether it was the offensive line, the defensive line, the backs – we all had a lot of pride, and we all wanted to show that we were doing our part to contribute to the team.”

I asked him if it was weird for him, as a devout Christian, to have as teammates hard-partiers and drug users (I didn’t mention LT by name).  His responded that the climate of pro sports gave him an opportunity to show the how genuine and sturdy his beliefs were.

“People would always look to me to see ‘Is this guy for real?’  So I had to show them that I walked the walk,” he said, not intending any puns.

I also expressed amazement that, amidst all the horror stories about ex-football players being mangled for the rest of their lives, the guy could walk at all, let alone walk across the country.

“I was very fortunate to play for 14 years without any injuries or surgeries,” he said.  “I was the exception to the rule.”

And finally, I asked him to show me his Super Bowl ring.  I told him it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

“Aren’t they all?” he replied.

Allow me a slightly lengthy preface here.

Here at NYGMen, I’ve long relied upon the unique stats created by the smart guys at FootballOutsiders.com, especially their DVOA stat, which breaks down each play and determines its success based on situation and opponent.

DVOA is a better gauge of how good a team is than raw yardage stats, which are often skewed by situation – think about when a team piles on chunks of yards while getting blown out – and opponent – maybe a 90-yard rushing performance against the ’85 Bears is more impressive than a 100-yard game against the 2008 Seahawks.

It is also a better gauge of how good a team is than wins and losses, which are subject to simple luck: what if the tipped pass is caught by a wide receiver, or even falls incomplete, and doesn’t get intercepted and returned for a touchdown?  Looking at teams on a play-by-play basis puts in their proper place these random elements of luck that have a disproportionate impact on the outcome of games.

The value of a stat can be judged by how predictive it is going forward.  As it turns out, DVOA is more predictive of win-loss record going forward than both win-loss record itself and yardage stats.  In other words, a team with a good DVOA but a mediocre win-loss record can generally be expected to have a good win-loss record going forward.  Conversely, a team with a mediocre DVOA but a good win-loss record can expected to be mediocre in the future.

So there you have it: DVOA, the best gauge I know of how good a team will be from a given point forward.  The stat is expressed in terms of a percentage relative to the league average: to give a general benchmark, a team with a 30% DVOA is Super Bowl worthy, a team with a DVOA of 0 is average, and a team with a DVOA of -30% is first-pick-of-the-draft worthy.

Ok, anyway…

This is all prologue to a discussion of how ridiculously good the Giants have been this year.  Their DVOA of 56.7% is by far the best in the league, significantly better than the second-best Ravens (I know, it seems weird, but bear with me on DVOA, please), who stand at 42.5%.

Their offense has been truly phenomenal, sporting a DVOA of 41.1%, more than 10 points better than the second-best Broncos.  Their running game has been the best in the league by far, with a 38.6% DVOA that ranks much better than the second-place Falcons at 26.2%.  Their passing game ranks a very narrow second to Washington’s – of all teams! – by a margin of 43.7% to 43.6%.

The defense has been merely excellent: their DVOA of -12.4%, (which was brought down by getting sliced up by Carson Palmer) ranks 7th in the league.  They have been excellent against both run (-10.2%, which ranks 9th) as well as the pass (-14.0%, which ranks 7th).

And thanks to John Carney and some good returns by Hixon and even R.W. on Sunday, the G-Men are even very good on special teams, boasting a DVOA of 3.2%, which ranks 10th.

The upshot here is that the G-Men have been absurdly good on a play-by-play basis, probably better than you would have thought.  Detractors might point to our soft schedule thus far, but the beauty of DVOA is that it accounts for opponent.  (Although at this point in the season, the strength of opponents is hard to pin down.  Also, the G-Men get a lot of credit in this system for beating the Redskins, but it seemed pretty clear that the Redskins of Week 1 weren’t the same team as they are now.  But I digress…)

How good has this Giants start been?  It is the 7th best start since 1996, the point at which FootballOutsiders has enough data to calculate DVOA.  The top team on this list?  None other than the 2007 New England Patriots, with an absurd 72.4%.

Their offense has been nearly as good from a recent historical perspective: It ranks 8th best through four games.  Strangely, the 1999 Redskins top this list.

I’ll let Aaron Schatz, the genius behind FootballOutsiders, take this one home:

“Yes, that’s right – so far, the Giants have been that good.  They have a better pass defense than they had a year ago, and a much, much better passing game on offense.  Many NFL observers felt Eli Manning would continue to play at the high level he showed in last year’s postseason, with improved confidence moving him into the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks.  Pro Football Prospectus 2008 said Manning would put up better fantasy numbers this year because of the “third down rebound effect.”  [A FootballOutsiders tenet that says that guys who are significantly worse on third down than they were on first and second – which Eli was last year – will bounce back as their third down performance gets more in line with their early down performance.]  It looks like both of these things have happened.  He’s the clear leader of the team and as we learned this week, he can even play well without Plaxico Burress on the field.  Meanwhile, the Giants offense leads the league on first down and second down and is fifith in third down.  Last year, the Giants offense ranked 12, 17, and 23 on those downs, respectively.”

Some of the coverage of the Plax’s comments today has been pretty misleading, and, I believe, kind of misses the point.

ESPN’s article, which has occupied the site’s top spot all evening, led with: “An unapologetic Plaxico Burress rejoined the New York Giants on Monday, noting he didn’t lose any sleep after he Super Bowl champions suspended him for a game.”

The beat writers are a little more even-handed, knowing that Plax being Plax isn’t nearly as bad as Manny being Manny or T.O. being T.O.

Sure, Plax’s attitude during the interview was defiant, and he definitely said some ridiculous things.  But if you read the whole transcript – you can read it in four parts here – it’s clear that although he stopped short of apologizing, he knows what he did was unacceptable.

To wit:

–“Maybe I could’ve put a call in.”

–“I definitely let them down.”

–“They made the decision for the best of the team and I have a lot of respect for that.  They made the decision to suspend me for a week, which I was cool with.  We all agreed to it and moved on.”

–“Will I make the same decision?  Yes.  Will I handle the situation a little better?  Yes, I’ll put in a phone call”

So going forward, Plax gets it, or at least he gets it enough.  His defiant attitude during the interview was probably the result of feeling cornered by the media.  Plax is the proverbial “Proud Man,” and like many people, probably has a hard time distinguishing between an apology and a ritual of humiliation.  That’s a frustrating quality, but hardly a reason to write the guy off as a bad teammate.

Now, I don’t mean to excuse Plax’s actions or comments.  There was certainly a lot in that interview to make you angry.

His repeated insistence that he would do it again – or as he put it: “It’s like I told them, if I have a decision to make about my family or son and things like that, I wouldn’t change anything about it” – was pretty infuriating.

But do you think he really meant that?  It doesn’t jibe with the “apologies” above.  Rather, this struck me as a misguided tactic to get the media off his back by playing the family card.  But the problem, obviously, wasn’t his choosing his family over football.  It was that he didn’t call.  He knows that, but maybe he naively believed this tactic could make him a sympathetic character.  It backfired, and he wound up making himself look worse.

Also, it was weird when he said he only watched “a little bit of [the game].  I watched the first half.”  If an athlete losing $100 grand and shrugging his shoulders doesn’t infuriate the average fan, this might.  Didn’t watch the game?  For Heaven’s sake, many of us have watched it twice already!

But here’s the deal here: We can choose to get bent out of shape about what he said, or we can accept that this situation, while imperfect, doesn’t present an imminent threat to team morale.  It doesn’t even present a gathering threat.

As Ralph Vacchiano wrote in his live chat with readers last week, “I don’t think Burress and Coughlin have ever really gotten along.  They’ve peacefully coexisted more than anything else.”

Or as Plax himself said today, “We hit and miss sometimes and things like that.”

It’s a manageable situation, this Plax being Plax.  But you know what else was Plax being Plax?  Gutting out last season on a shredded ankle, adding a separated shoulder in Green Bay and then a torn knee before the Super Bowl.

So let’s move on and start thinking about Cleveland.

“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.

Here’s a podcast interview with me on Seahawkaddicts.com, the excellent Seahawks fan blog whose lead writer, Michael Steffes, penned the in-depth take on his team that I posted yesterday.

To hear the entire podcast, a lot of which is comprised of informative Seahawks-talk between Steffes and his blog cohorts, click here. My interview starts at around the one-third mark of the podcast. For just the interview – on which I ramble on like this guy at times – you can click here.

And if you didn’t see it already, here’s my bye week analysis for the New York Times’ Fifth Down Blog. (Mine is the one that begins with “The hunky dory…”)

NYGMen was contacted this week by Michael Steffes, creator and lead writer of the Seahawks blog, Seahawkaddicts.com.  The following is Steffes’ take on Sunday’s game.

Hello Giants fans, my name is Michael Steffes and I am the creator and lead writer for a fairly popular Seahawks fan blog called Seahawk Addicts.  Greg and I have agreed to trade some analysis about our respective teams this week in order to give our readers some greater insight into this matchup.  

But before I get into my analysis of this year’s incarnation of the Seahawks, I wanted to talk to you all about a controversy that was stirred up this week.  Many of you may have heard or read about a different Seahawks site that posted a despicable attempt at smack talk.  I am not going to go into the specifics of what was said (if you are unfamiliar with what I speak, it’s for the better), but it was nauseating.  What I wanted to say on this subject was that every Seahawks fan I know, including all of the readers of our site, were universally disgusted with what this one fan said.  It was appalling.  Every fanbase has its idiots, but this person represents the smallest minority of Seahawks fans.   So from all of us true Seahawk fans, we apologize to anyone who was hurt by those comments.

Now, let’s move on to the 2008 Seahawks.  Currently the Hawks have a record of 1-2, which represents less than the standard they have set over recent years.  However, I caution you that this team is actually better than the team that was fielded in ’06 and ‘07, they’ve just been the struck with terrible luck.  The team has been playing this year without their top 5 WRs.  Never have I seen the injury bug decimate one position like this before–imagine the Giants with Sinorice Moss as their top wideout and you can see what we have been suffering through. 

Despite this, the team should probably be 2-1, but they lost in overtime to the SF 49ers in a game where they just couldn’t catch a break from either the officials or the football gods.  There were two interceptions on tipped balls and a Seahawk interception in the end zone was negated by a call the officials debated for several minutes.   Sometimes it just isn’t your day.

Because of their losing record, the Seahawks will come in as a desperate team.  They have a very hard stretch of games following this one (GB, Tampa, @SF, Philly).  They need to even their record, but this will be a hard task.  Historically, they are terrible after the bye with a record of 2-6 under Holmgren.  Also, they are notorious for struggling on the East Coast at 10 AM.  The good news is that the bye week has allowed them to get back two of their top wideouts, Deion Branch and Bobby Engram.  Starting RT Sean Locklear is also back.  Ray Willis played well in Locklear’s absence, but he isn’t the pass protector that Locklear is, and the Hawks will need his skills if they hope to contain Justin Tuck.  How much the returning receivers can help remains to be seen, but expectations are low since it will likely take a game or two for them to get back into top form. 

One thing that is new about the Hawks this year is their running game, which currently ranks 3rd in the NFL.  As Giants fans you have seen a lot of Julius Jones over the years and probably weren’t too impressed.  However, he seems to have a new lease on life with the Seahawks and has willed himself to some big games in weeks two and three.  He is breaking tackles and moving the chains, which is a pleasant change of scenery for Seahawks fans.  Shaun Alexander stopped running hard after winning the MVP in 2005, and as a result often left the Hawks in 2nd and 3rd and long situations.  Jones’ best contribution may be keeping the Hawks on schedule, even when the big gains aren’t there.  The team also added TJ Duckett, who is 100% so far this year in short yardage situations.  The Hawks were one of the worst teams in the league over the last two years at converting on short yardage.  They lost a couple of games simply because they couldn’t manage to gain a yard when they most needed it.  The running game faces its biggest test so far this year in the Giants’ run defense.  As Hawk fans, we are using this game as a measuring stick for how far the ground game has really come.

Defensively, the Seahawks have great personnel.  However, they really haven’t put it all together yet.  The front seven has been very good this year.  You probably know the fancy Pro Bowl names like Julian Peterson, Lofa Tatupu, and Patrick Kerney, but the two players that really drive the run defense are fourth year linebacker Leroy Hill and second year defensive tackle Brandon Mebane.  Both are budding stars whose names you are likely to hear often on Sunday.  They have handled some good backs so far this year, and while the Giants are great at running the football, I expect that the Hawks will keep their running game in check.

This leaves the secondary.  A week ago I would have told you that Burress was going to destroy the Hawks, as they typically have a lot of trouble with big, physical wide receivers.  However, now that he is suspended, the Hawks match up much better.  This same group allowed the fewest TD passes in the league last year, and typically does well against smaller, quicker receivers.  The real weakness of this group seems to be 3rd and long.  For some reason they allow far too many 3rd and long conversions.  Part of this is because of some predictable tendencies in defensive coordinator John Marshall’s play calling.  When he blitzes he often sends seven guys, but when he isn’t blitzing he prefers a soft two-deep coverage which allows receivers too much space.  When Marshall’s play calling is hot this defense can’t be stopped, but when he is off this defense disappoints.  I expect the Seahawks’ defense to focus on stopping the run to try to make the Giants’ receivers beat them.  Unfortunately for the Seahawks, it is not out of the question that Toomer and company will manage does just that, especially if the Hawks can’t get pressure on Eli Manning, something they will need if they hope to win.  The Seahawks pass rush tends to be non-existent on the road.  However, if they are getting to Manning I believe they have a shot at winning this game.

Overall, I expect to see a defensive struggle, simply because Eli is missing Plax, the Hawks are good against the run, and the Seattle offense will need time for the returning players at wide receiver to get up to speed.   I am not bold enough to predict a Seahawks victory at 10am PST on the East Coast against the defending Super Bowl Champs, but I do think the Hawks desperation to get a win will make it a good game.  I wish I could be more optimistic about the Hawks chances, but I have seen them fall flat in too many similar games. I am taking the Giants 20-17.  My thanks to Greg for giving me the opportunity to share with  all of you, and may the best team win this Sunday (and both stay healthy in the process!).  

Injuries:

The bye week did wonders for Kiwanuka, who says he’s feeling about as good as he’s going to.

“There’s a little bit [of pain there], but I’ve played with far worse injuries than this.

Manningham, whom the coaching staff seems to have wanted to supplant Moss as the fourth receiver this week (and fifth receiver when Plax gets back), picked up a narsty stomach flu and returned to practice just today.  It remains to be seen who will get those snaps during the game.

Either way, the whole thing doesn’t bode well for Moss.  The guy seems to be on his way out of town, barring some bad injuries at receiver this year.

R.W. (calf) is back to practicing in full.  Jerome McDougle (knee) was limited on Wednesday, but expects to play Sunday.

The Pass Rush:

A very interesting article by Mike Garafolo of the Star-Ledger the other day. Although the Giants’ total of 13 sacks gives them the league-lead in sacks per game, their quarterback “hurries” are down substantially from last year.  The G-Men have 18 total hurries this year, a far cry from last year, when they averaged 15 per game.

These numbers, taken with the good job the Bengals did picking up the blitz last week, have led to discussion that the league is catching onto Spagnuolo’s schemes.

When asked if this year’s pass rush was on the same level as last year’s, Spanuolo himself said:

“No, probably not.  Some of that credit belongs to the offenses.  And the other thing…is that there’s a lot of film on our defense out there and there are some smart offensive coaches.  There start to pick up a little things and we have to be a little bit of a step ahead of that.”

The G-Men think they might have been tipping their blitzes last Sunday.

Said Barry Cofield, “We definitely felt like we picked up on some things.  Coach Spags presented them to us and we all agreed that that could be the case.  We’re definitely going to try to do a better job of disguising.”

And Tuck said: “When you get to go back and look at film from the view of your opponent, you’re going to see some things where you are kind of tipping your hand.  We got to him early; they made some adjustments.  The things we got home with early, they did a good job of picking them up [later in the game].”

Plax:

The details emerging after Plax’ suspension have been pretty disconcerting.

First, we heard that he had two restraining orders taken out on him this summer by his wife, though we don’t know whether this has anything to do with what happened last Monday.  We have no more information other than that it was a family situation that Plax felt was an emergency at the time.

Then, there was this article by Jay Glazer of FoxSports that Plax has been fined staggering 40-50 times during his Giants career.  So maybe this incident represents more than just a one-time relapse into immaturity.

Ralph Vacchiano, the Daily News beat writer, shed some light on Plax in his live chat with Giants fans on Tuesday:

I don’t think Burress and Coughlin have ever really gotten along.  They’ve peacefully coexisted more than anything else.  I remember talking to Burress a year or so ago and he said that he used to break Coughlin’s rules just for the heck of it, just to see what he could get away with.  That’s not exactly the mark of a good team player.  But Burress insisted he had changed.  Unfortunately, that’s not the case.  When he missed that meeting that led to his suspension, his teammates said that him missing a meeting wasn’t unusual at all.  I’ve also heard that he’s been fined dozens of times over the years.  I don’t think any of that is the result of, or will result in, strong negative feelings towards the Giants.  Hell, the Giants just enabled him with a five-year, $35 million deal.  I just think he’s Plaxico being Plaxico.  He just doesn’t care about fines and rules.  He does what he wants and he shows up on Sunday, gets his money, and that’s all that matters to him.  I’d bet anything that when he comes back from his suspension, he accepts responsibility but says that he’d do it again because whatever his reason was meant more to him than missing a game.  And I think the Giants knew this was the way Burress was.  If you want to get his remarkable talent (and I think he’s one of the top three receivers in the NFL) then you have to accept the rest.

Ok…  I have to say this was pretty disappointing to read.  I was under the impression that Plax had transformed and grown out his pain-in-the-ass-ness.  I guess that’s not the case.

But if I understand Vacchiano correctly here, it’s really not that big of a problem.  Plax and Coughlin “peacefully coexist,” and the new contract Plax just signed would seem to indicate that theirs is a tenable, if not ideal, relationship.  But will this suspension imperil it?  Hopefully not.

Punt Returns:

This kind of got lost in the shuffle, but now that R.W. is healthy, he has been seen returning some punts in practice, along with Bradshaw.

When Colonel Tom was asked whether Hixon may not return punts this week because he’s starting at split end, he replied, “We will see about that.”

This is stupid.  Hixon is by far our best punt returner (and kick returner); there’s no reason he shouldn’t handle both those responsibilities.

The Kicker Situation:

Conflicting takes from the beat reporters here: Mike Garafolo of the Star-Ledger says his knee has been swelling up and likely won’t play, while Vacchiano of the Daily News’ says he’s probably play.

Are there any Giants fans who want Tynes back at all, let alone if he rushes back?  There seemed to be a disconnect between the media coverage of Tynes after the Green Bay game and Giants’ fans opinion of him.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but he’s not really a hero in our minds, right?  I guess we’re grateful for the 47-yarder, but overall, I think most of us still want to strangle him for the two previous kicks.  And we  still don’t trust him.  Lawrence Tynes, you are no Matt Bahr.

Danny Ware Arrested:

Danny Ware, who earned a roster spot by running pretty during the preseason, was arrested in Athens, GA last Saturday after the UGA-Alabama game.  According to police, he was standing in the street with a girl oblivious to oncoming traffic, and blew a .152 on his BAC.

But according to some eyewitnesses who commented on the Athens-Banner Herald’s website, Ware was merely the victim of a power-tripping asshole cop.  According to these witnesses, Ware was standing not far from the curb trying to hail a cab when a cop abruptly rolled up and arrested four people for no good reason.

With our Big Three at running back, Ware probably won’t play a role on this year’s team.  But Jacobs is a free agent after this year, so it’s not out of the question that we will hear from this guy someday.

Madison:

This is a nice article by Paul Schwartz in the Post about how Sam Madison has evolved into a kind of player-coach in the secondary.  Madison took a $500,000 pay cut to stay with the G-Men, and though his skills are clearly diminished, he provides a valuable veteran presence for A-Ross, Webster, and Dockery.  And, of course, he made a great play on 3rd down in overtime against the Bengals, enabling us to get the ball back and drive for the winning field goal.

The story would be even more heartwarming, however, if Madison hadn’t committed that egregious 15-yard personal foul penalty in the NFC Championship game that led to Donald Lee’s go-ahead touchdown.  Fox replays didn’t capture him throwing down Brandon Jackson last year, so I have never seen that clip.  Has anyone?  Is their any hand-held YouTube footage of this one?

We’ve taken NYGMen to the NYT-Men and Women.  Last week, I wrote a “State of the Home Team” analysis for the Gray Lady, contributing along with four other Giants bloggers.  (Mine is the one that begins with “The hunky dory atmosphere…”)

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