November 2008


A deeply satisfying win.  Once again, just when you thought you couldn’t be any higher on this team, they manage to impress you.

This game reminded me of the Pittsburgh game in that going into each contest, many people predicted us to lose.  The rationale was that we can’t win ‘em all, and since we have to drop some games, these wouldn’t be such bad losses.

Both performances attest to the hunger of this team to defend its title.  In both games, we showed early that we were the superior team (in the Eagles game, a 244 to 126 advantage in yards in the first half), but were unable to convert this play-by-play dominance into a commensurate advantage on the scoreboard (only a 20-17 lead).

And when both the Steelers and Eagles scored third quarter touchdowns to take the lead, it looked as if we had squandered our best stretch of ball and were positioned to lose a game we should have won.  But in both games, we persevered and resumed our dominance.

This team has heart.

I. Colonel Tom

Maybe today’s game will go down as the moment when we officially embraced Colonel Tom.  We all know what I’m talking about: the challenge on Eli’s pass to Boss that set up Jacobs’ touchdown to put us up 27-24.  That was the biggest play of the game.

Michaels and Madden were all over it: Tom has the best challenge percentage in league history (granted, the challenge rule dates back only to 2004).  But what does this tell you about Tom?  Sure, I have my gripes with him, mostly centered around his under-utilization of Ahmad.  But we have a great coach, and we should be grateful.  A lot of Giants fans, including me, were wrong about him.  Tom Coughlin is a winner.

As opposed to, say, Andy Reid.  Thank you, Andy, for the clock management at the end of the first half that cost your team four points, the senseless challenges that spent the Eagles’ remaining time outs, not running a play before the two-minute warning because McNabb was tired (awwwww), and the consecutive running plays on the last series. 

And you wonder why Eagles fans are so bitter?

II. The O-Line

Brandon Jacobs was NBC’s “Horse Trailer Player of the Game,” or whatever they call it, and Jacobs deserves props.  He ran really well, gaining 117 yards at 5.7 per (although his three fumbles, only one of which counted, detract significantly from his outing).

But we all know where this game was won: In the trenches, with the best offensive line in the league.  The Eagles came into the game with the third best rush defense in the league, with an outstanding -18.6% DVOA.  No problem.  Our boys up front paved the way for the running backs to gain to 217 yards on a cool 4.9 yards per carry.

The running game was the foundation of our attack that put up 36 points and notched 401 total yards on one of the best defenses in the league.  As for pass protection, Eli was only sacked once against a defense known for its ability to bring pressure. 

Nothing new here, but our O-line is the foundation for our success, probably the biggest a reason to be confident against any team in the NFL going forward.

So let’s honor these guys by name: Dave Diehl, Rich Seubert, Shaun O’Hara, Chris Snee, and Kareem McKenzie.  Once again, the game ball goes to you.

III. Fumblitis

Over the past few games, we’ve seen Jacobs be increasingly reckless with the ball, so I can’t say I was all that surprised about tonight’s three fumbles (again, only one of which actually counted, but still).  Add in the rare Ward fumble at the most inopportune time, along with another unconscionable fumble by Ahmad, and we have something to worry about here.

If Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb weren’t Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb, we might be blaming the fumbles for costing us a game in which we were clearly the better team.

Fortunately, we got away with it, but this is worrisome and has to stop.  Maybe we can bring back Tiki Barber as a guest lecturer on recovering from fumblitis.

IV. Special Teams

Save for the Quinton Demps fumble, we got killed in this area during the first half.  To our credit, we responded in the second half, but this still has to be considered an area of concern.

I can’t figure out why kickoff coverage has been a sporadic vulnerability for us over the past couple of years.  If the Jerry Reese Giants are characterized by anything, it is their athleticism on the roster from top to bottom.  This would seem to be a team ideally suited to field good special teams.

By the way, Tynes has to be the worst kickoff specialist in league history.  His kickoffs are probably better than Carney’s, but really, what’s the point or carrying him and not an actual kickoff specialist.  Are there any of these guys out there?  Because when it comes for field goals, I think Carney’s proven enough.  He has to be our guy going forward.)

Also, it was nice to see Hixon break one today – that call on Johnson was bullshit.  After the Seahawks game, that guy has been somewhat slept on, but he reminded us again what an asset he is.

Big ups on special teams also go to Ahmad, who made two great sticks on kickoffs.  Speaking of special teams…

V. Chase Blackburn

A crucial fumble recovery in the first quarter and then the game-clinching stop of Westbrook, along with a nice tackle on a kickoff.  He started at weakside linebacker today and should stay there for the rest of the season.  As I said last week, this guy needs to be on the field.

VI. Corey Webster

Yes, he got beaten by DeSean Jackson on that last scoring drive, but aside from that, I’m pretty sure this was a blemishless performance.  People talk about how much this guy has improved, but that’s a backhanded way getting at how good he is.  Sure, Corey Webster is the 2008 Most Improved Player.  But he’s also one of the best cornerbacks in the game.  In the NFL, it always takes time for a guy’s reputation to catch up to his production.  In the postseason, look for announcers to be making this point: Corey Webster is a Pro Bowl caliber corner.

VII. Odds and Ends

–What happened to the end zone fade to Plax?  Surely it’s worth one play on a goal-to-go series.  If the Eagles can do it with Hank Basket on Aaron Ross, surely we can do it with Plax on Asante Samuel or Sheldon Brown.

–Antonio Pierce was getting abused in pass coverage by LJ Smith over the middle.  This seam pattern has been a consistent vulnerability for this defense.

–Madison Hedgecock needs to re-learn how to catch.  What is that, four passes in a row he has dropped?  I don’t get it: Last year he had pretty good hands.  It was a drop by Madison, along with an uncharacteristic drop by Ward (who’s a great receiver), which kept us from converting those two Eagles turnovers into 14 points.  This effectively allowed Philly to stay in the game.

–Mathias Kiwanuka made a nice play “setting the edge” on a Westbrook run, but lost contain on two other plays.  I’ve said this before: ‘Nuke needs to be more disciplined out there.

–Kevin Boss, the end zone drop notwithstanding, can play.

For this post, check out the NY Times Fifth Down Blog.

Big game tonight…

Right now, they see a wounded dog in the division, and they didn’t like the way the Cowboys came into this season basically anointing themselves Super Bowl Champions before the season began.  And, you know, they’re smelling blood and they’re gonna give it everything they’ve got.

–Troy Aikman

**

Wow, that was an awful Cowboys team we played today, and makes you wonder if things will be all that different when Romo comes back.  Aikman and Buck made this point a lot during the game, but quarterback play was only part of the problem.  What about stopping the run (we averaged 5.9 yards per carry), running the ball themselves (3.4 yards per carry), or protecting whoever is playing quarterback (4 sacks and tons of pressure)?

In the rubbing it in department, behold and enjoy the following G-Men quotes:

Plaxico Burress: “I mean, they had a star on their helmets so it was a Cowboy game to me.”

Justin Tuck: “They still had us outnumbered 10 Pro Bowlers to none, so I don’t see where all the sympathy is coming from.”

And even some words of wisdom from our favorite Cowboy shit-talking choke-artist, Patrick Crayton:  “In games like this against teams like this, if you don’t bring your A-game, you will get your ass whooped like we got our ass whooped tonight.”

It’s too early to write the Cowboys off, but making the playoffs would require quite the ill run.  It’s possible, and if they make that run, watch out come playoff time.  But they really have no room for error as they pursue the Wild Card.  At 5-4, they’re not catching us for the division.

Good God, that team is a mess.

**

But we’re not.  The 2008 New York Giants: Another week, another statement.

Ah, where to begin here?  Obviously the D, which allowed only one touchdown and 183 total yards, forced 4 turnovers, and was so dominant that even a downright bad performance by Eli didn’t get in the way of a blowout.

All three defensive units were nearly flawless.  We’ll start with the linebackers, who haven’t gotten much love this year.  Danny Clark made a team-high nine tackles and was generally all over the place, shooting gaps and making plays in space.  Is this guy rounding into Kawika Mitchell, redux? 

Chase Blackburn filled in for Brian Kehl – whose toe injury forced him to miss practice this week but isn’t serious – and did an admirable job.  This guy’s such a good player – even when Wilkinson comes back, wouldn’t you rather see Blackburn splitting those weakside snaps instead?  He needs to be on the field.

And Antonio Pierce made two big plays.  The first was when he stripped T.O. deep in our territory after Eli’s weird fumble.  The second was on the Cowboys second series, when he ran stride-for-stride with Jason Whitten down the seam and forced a perfect throw from Johnson that didn’t come.  Tony P has been assailed for his notoriously poor coverage of that seam route, so it’s only right to give credit where it’s due here.

Moving over to the D-line, Tuck was a force.  Coming into the season, we knew he was good, but it was still a question whether he would blossom into a truly elite player.  Eight games and six sacks in, that question is close to being definitely answered.

Tuck had the 2.5 sacks yesterday, but the guy I noticed the most, on a play-by-play basis, was Kiwanuka.  ‘Nuke was way too quick for Flozell Adams, and after being named the Defensive Player of the Week last week, he had his second excellent game in a row.  He only had one sack, but he routinely beat Flozell to the edge and forced Johnson/Bollinger to step up and get flustered.

It appears ‘Nuke is fully recovered from both the high-ankle injury from Week 1 and the leg injury from last year and is ready to explode into a full-fledged pass-rushing force.  I still think he plays too high and can be undisciplined against the run.  But he can straight-up abuse left tackles with below-average quickness, like Pittsburgh’s Max Starks and Flozell the Hotel.

As for the interior guys, I actually didn’t notice that much, but holding Marion Barber to 2.8 yards per carry speaks for itself.

Praise for the secondary begins with Corey Webster — or as Chris Berman calls him, The Dictionary – and his two picks.  The great thing about Webster’s first pick – the one he brought back to the Dallas 27 – was that it came right after that sideline circus-catch by Roy Williams.  Webster covered Williams very well on that play, but a perfect throw and a semi-miraculous catch beat him.  Such is the nature of playing cornerback or defense in any sport: If the offense executes perfectly, they’ll do what they want to do.  But the offense doesn’t always execute perfectly, which was apparent on the next play when Johnson badly overthrew T.O. and the ball sailed right to Webster, who provided great coverage for the second play in a row.  If you have a short memory and do your job play after play, you’re gonna get good results.  That’s how you play cornerback.

Let’s also use this opportunity to praise Webster’s season in general and how far he has come.  His improvement has been well-documented, but it bears repeating: he has evolved from a complete bust into a truly excellent player, though it will take a while for his reputation to catch up to the quality of his play (another Super Bowl ring will help, though).  I never thought I’d say this, but has Corey Webster become a guy you don’t want to challenge?  (And yes, he got beat by T.O. on that short touchdown.  But he had no help in the middle of the field because we brought a blitz.  Tough assignment.)

Then there’s Aaron Ross, who I didn’t notice in pass coverage (good thing) but who I did notice in run support (also a good thing).  Ross had 5 tackles including 3 solos – I continue to be impressed with the angles he takes and how surely he wraps up guys, usually by going low.  And for all those people who panicked so much after the Cleveland and San Francisco games?  I think you were overreacting.

Terrell Thomas started at nickelback and played well, making a big play when he separated T.O. from the ball on 3rd down on the Cowboys eventual scoring drive (The ‘Boys converted the 4th down on the next play.  Oh, and that touchdown drive was illegitimate anyway – that personal foul on Tuck for driving Bollinger into the ground was bullshit.).  Apparently the G-Men are very high on Thomas, and after today, we can see why.

After Thomas was injured on that play – I don’t know the status of that one – Sam Madison came in and provided excellent coverage of Roy Williams on an endzone fade.  At that moment, the following thought crossed my head: Holy shit we’re deep!

That goes for the safety position too, where James Butler headlined the action with his second athletic pick in two weeks.  Butler sprained his knee during the game, but he’s confident he will play in Philly next week.  James Butler… I think us fans are coming around.

Kenny Phillips and Michael Johnson chipped in with five tackles apiece, and another forgotten veteran, Sammy Knight, made five stops also, all of them solo.  Yep, we’re mad deep…

**

Offensively there was a lot to like too.

Obviously the running game, which ran for a clean 200 yards on 34 carries.  As always, the O-Line was the big star here.  Aikman – who, as loyal NYGMen commenter Dan pointed out, has gotten to know the Giants very, very well over the past few years – heaped his usual praise on the fatties up front.  At this point, there’s not too much more to say about them, other than to say definitively that they’re the best in the league.

I’ll once again avail myself of FootballOutsiders stats to prove my point: The G-Men rank third in adjusted line yards (run blocking) and second in adjusted sack rate.  No other team ranks nearly so well across the board.

As for the running backs, Jacobs bounced back from a rough game last week to average 6.9 yards per carry, including two Tiki-esque zig-zag runs in the second half.  He ran over guys and he juked guys out of their cleats.  He was terrific.

Derrick Ward was his usual super-competent self, a performance that included a number of key first downs.  Ward might be one of the most underrated players in football: how confident do you feel with the ball in his hands?

And Ahmad Bradshaw, stashed in the doghouse though he might be, turned in an impressive performance in his brief outing nonetheless.  That guy seems to rip off an awesome run every game.  (Here comes the weekly ritual: We need to get this guy more touches – it’s criminal how underutilized this resource is.)

As for the receivers, there’s Boss and his soft hands, Smith and his nose for the first-down marker, along with Amani and his solid awesomeness.  No receiver stuck out, but there was nothing to complain about.

Except maybe Plax, who dropped those two passes (including a touchdown), and had that miscommunication with Eli on Jenkins’ pick-six.  But while it wasn’t a good game for Plax, I can’t kill the guy. 

For one, the pick-six looked like it was Eli’s fault, at least judging by the body-language during the sideline conversation that was caught on camera.  On the play, Jenkins jumped the route, which probably called for Plax to break it off and run a streak.  Plax saw that, but Eli didn’t.  And wouldn’t that throw probably have been picked even if Plax ran did what Eli thought he was going to?

Secondly, Plax’s great blocking was on display during two key runs – Jacobs’ 31-yard run and Ward’s 17-yard touchdown run – on the touchdown drive that put us up 35-14.  (The awesome thing about that drive was that we answered the Cowboys’ scoring drive right then and there.)

So lay off Plax.  It was a rough game in a tumultuous season, but there’s much less to worry about than many people will have you believe.  He finally showed contrition this week and we’re 7-1 with an awesome passing game.  There’s no crisis.

**

So far, it has been almost all praise.  But now we get to Eli, who was pretty bad, no question about it.  To rehash, he went 16 for 27 (59%, not terrible) for a season-low 147 yards, averaging a sub-par, but also not awful, 5.4 yards per attempt (his career average is 6.4, and his 2008 average is 7.1).  The damaging things were his three turnovers, including an inexplicable fumble and the pick-six by Jenkins.

Today was Eli’s second truly bad game this year, the first being the Cleveland game.  But doesn’t it seem like there’s a difference between these games and the bad games he had in the past, when he looked completely shook out there?  In his bad games this year, he has looked a little reckless.  But I’m sure most Giants fans would prefer Eli to have a bad game due to this overconfidence rather than the underconfidence that characterized his bad games in the past.

A mitigating circumstance in all this was the Cowboys’ solid pass rush, which was really the only facet in which they were remotely successful.  And look at it this way: How ridiculous is it that we beat the shit out of the Cowboys when Eli had a bad game?

**

Other negatives were the kickoffs and the kickoff return game.  On the kickoffs, Carney’s boots have reached a critical point.  The problem is that we shouldn’t part with him as a field goal kicker – a kicker having an automatic season must be respected.

So it looks like we’re gonna have to carry two kickers.  Yes, this seems absurd considering Tynes’ kicks are no great shakes, but it’s honestly the best thing we can do.  Let’s just not dress Rueben Droughns and be done with it.

And on kickoff returns, doesn’t it always seem like the wedge doesn’t get up-field enough for Bradshaw, which causes Ahmad to slow down and tip-toe into it?  This has been going on all year – it prevents Bradshaw from exploding through a hole for a big return.  There aren’t many areas in which this team to improve, but it shouldn’t be too hard to get a lot better in these facets.

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