December 2008

Hey Giants fans.  Sorry I’ve been AWOL.  I froze my ass off at the Carolina game and have since been swamped with the day job and tending to the holidays.

But I’m coming back soon.  Check for more content starting this weekend.  In the meantime, here’s a little piece I wrote for the New York Times Fifth Down Blog about R.W. McQuarters’ charity.  (You probably already knew this, but R.W. is the man.)

I. Jacobs Will Almost Definitely Play

It really, really looks like dude will play – he even practiced yesterday on a limited basis.

To their credit, the G-Men have been super-cautious about this: Last week, Jacobs begged the trainers and coaches to let him play, but they insisted he rest, which was smart.  When Plax injured his hammy, he pushed it in a relatively meaningless game against Arizona, aggravating the injury.  Good to see the G-Men are learning from their mistakes.

Maybe if we win this game, we should consider resting Jacobs against the Vikings.  Consider how worn-down he looked in last year’s playoffs, when he averaged 3.2 yards per carry compared to Bradshaw’s 4.3 (which doesn’t include the touchdown-that-wasn’t in the Green Bay game, thanks to a ticky-tack hold on Chris Snee).  This brings up the question of whether we should rest guys against the Vikings if we win on Sunday, but I suppose we’ll cross that bridge if and when we come to it.

Jacobs had some pretty cool quotes in yesterday’s Star-Ledger.  Check these out:

“I don’t want to [have to] plead [to play] this week.  There’s kind of no choice.  I want to go.  Whoever I have to talk to to get this verdict, that’s what I’m going to do.”


“We are the head honchos of the conference.  This game means a lot to our team, so I want to be out there to have a better chance for our team to win.”

“Head honchos” – gotta love it.  After Sunday, the G-Men will officially be the Big Cheese of the NFC.

II.  Getting Healthier

Via Mike Garafolo, Robbins, Ward, Hixon, and Moss all practiced today.  Yesterday, Jacobs, McKenzie, and Tuck practiced.  We’re getting healthier and we’re gonna fly around in the snow on Sunday night.

III.  Another Reason Not to Panic

As Ralph Vacciano pointed out in his live chat, a horrid performance in Week 15 does not a postseason run preclude.  Last year, we lost to the Redskins, 22-10 in a thoroughly listless, depressing games in recent memory.  This game saw the future Super Bowl MVP set a record for most incomplete passes in a game in a heinous 18 for 52 performance that made us wish Todd Collins was our quarterback.

So let’s see what happens on Sunday.  I’m expecting good things.

IV. Carney and Feagles

Most of the talk about the Pro Bowl has centered around Eli and Peyton becoming the first brother duo to make the Pro Bowl.  But I happen to think that Carney and Feagles become the two oldest dudes to make the Pro Bowl (44 and 42, respectively) is the cooler answer to a trivia question.

V. Great Move Locking Up Webster

Everyone knows that Webster has been good this year, but perhaps people don’t fully appreciate just how awesome: Although my fandom goes back only to around Mark Collins, I would venture to say his play this year is the best by a Giant cornerback I’ve ever seen.  Evidently, a light-bulb went on with this guy, and he was finally able to convert his incredible athleticism – he is quick, balanced, extremely long, and extremely coordinated – into results.

This outstanding article by Mike Garafolo backs up these claims with some statistics.

“Through 13 games, Webster has three interceptions and unofficially 22 passes defensed.  Webster also been the closest defender on 62 passes by opposing quarterbacks, — only 20 of which have been completed for a total of 238 yards and one touchdown.

“Add those numbers up, and opposing quarterbacks have posted just a 30.2 passer rating when throwing Webster’s way.”

So yeah… Webster is awesome and well-deserving of his five-year, $43.5 million contract.  Plus, he’s also only 26, so he’s a good bet to be good throughout the deal.  The following quote by Jerry Reese makes me feel even better:

“Corey has been an outstanding person and player in his short career for the Giants.  We are very happy to get this deal done.”

Outstanding person?  Sure, it’s a quote from a press release, but Reese didn’t have to say that.  If it’s true, it’s nice to know that Webster’s a character guy who can be a team leader in the future.

It sucks that Webster didn’t make the Pro Bowl, but in Asante Samuel, Antoine Winfield, and Charles Woodson, he was beaten out by some very deserving guys.  At first I was a little skeptical of Woodson, given the Packers overall defense.  But it turns out they have an excellent pass defense, so there you go.  Still, there should be Pro Bowl’s in Corey’s future.

I should mention that I had a one-on-one encounter with Webster the Saturday before he inked his deal.

I was at the Meadowlands watching the New Jersey high school football championships, having finagled a field pass through my friend.  (And yes, this was my first time on the field.  And yes, it was ridiculously awesome.)

I was standing near the tunnel – the one the G-Men come out of – when I spotted Webster coming out of the locker room and heading for the parking lot.  And although it looked like he was about to call someone on his cell, I went ahead and shouted, “Corey!” as I hustled toward him.

He was a little startled, but I extended a pound toward him and told him I was a big fan and he was having a great year.  That loosened him up, and he said something to the effect of, “Aright, man!” in a good-natured way, and we pound-hugged.

As we peeled away, I said to him, “You’re gonna get paid, you know.”

“I hope so,” he replied with a chuckle.  “That’s the plan.”

I should have posted this yesterday, but this is the third of these pieces I’ve put together for the New York Times’ Fifth Down Blog.  Unless the Cowboys run the table and win the Super Bowl, which would render last night’s game a huge turning point, last night wouldn’t have made the list.

I.  Gilbride

After last night, the blogosphere is alight with angry Giants fans wondering what has happened to our vaunted offense over the past two weeks.

Andrew Furman, the proprietor of the excellent Giants blog, points the finger squarely at Gilbride, who has long been the target of his wrath.  I think Furman has been a little tough on Gilbride in the past, but in this case, I agree with everything he says.

To appreciate the argument in its full indignant force, definitely check out his post.  In a nutshell, Furman’s argument goes thusly: Gilbride continued to call for deep drops and patterns that took way too long to develop, essentially letting Eli take the beating he did.   Instead, Furman says we should have gone with a diet “quick slants, 3 step drops, slip screens, draws, TE dumpoff checkdowns above the line of scrimmage.  Instead, we got long 7-step drops, and… shocking… 8 sacks.”

In his general takedown of Gilbride, he makes the point that the Giants have been outcoached for two straight weeks.  In the Philly game, both teams had to adjust to the wind.  Philly did, the G-Men didn’t.  In the Cowboys game, both teams had to adjust to their opponent’s ferocious pass rush.  The Cowboys did, the Giants didn’t.

So good job as always, Andy!

II. Lack of Plax

The problems with the game plan notwithstanding, it’s becoming pretty clear how much we will miss Plax – we’re really not the same team without him.  Plax is so talented that he can bail us out of a misbegotten play or gameplan with his long arms, strength, and ability to catch balls in traffic. 

The thing about Plax is that even if he’s covered, he’s still a viable option.  But if, say, Hixon is covered, Eli has to go to his next progression.  This takes time, and this becomes a significant problem if he’s under pressure, as evidenced by last night.

So I posit that beyond the offensive line’s brutal performance and Gilbride’s poor play-calling, the lack of Plax played a big role in the beating Eli took.  Going forward, this is something we have to adjust to. 

But can we?  Is it that easy?  Or was losing Plax a bigger blow than we even realized?  Yes, the Seahawks, Cardinals, and Redskins games went fine without him, but at this point, those games seem less instructive about what will happen going forward than the past two games.

So I’m worried, and I’m also very pissed.  If our offense doesn’t recover from this, we are likely in for a very disappointing ending to what had been our most promising season in ages.  And we’ll have Plaxico Burress and his stupidity to blame.

III.  Lack of Jacobs/Free Ahmad (Again)

The running game struggled yesterday, but I frankly don’t think things would have been any different if Jacobs was getting the carries that went to Ward.  Simply put, there weren’t any holes, and while Jacobs is great at charging through holes with a head of steam and running downhill for big gains, he’s not so good at creating for himself.  With the penetration the Cowboys defenders got last night, Jacobs wouldn’t have done any better.

But you know who might have?  Ahmad Bradshaw, who continues to be stashed on the bench and criminally underutilized.  When we were running for 200 yards and blowing teams out, Coughlin and Gilbride apologists offered the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” rationale for why Bradshaw was on the bench.  But after two pathetic offensive showings, it’s safe to say that this shit is broke, and it’s time to deviate from what we’ve been doing.

I’ve made this point before, but if your offense is struggling to score points, you need playmakers.  Ahmad is a game-breaker – maybe he could have broken off a 40-yard play last night that would have jump-started our offense.  But no.  For some reason, we stayed with Ward and continued to bang our heads against the wall while our offense repeatedly failed.

IV.  Hixon Needs to Return Kicks and Punts (Again)

This is related to the point I made above: If you’re struggling to score points, the need for big plays is more acute.  Having Moss (who is a terrible return-man) and ‘Dubs returning kicks and punts, respectively, takes away one of our best opportunities for big plays in Hixon’s returns.

It almost as if Coughlin doesn’t see the return game as a chance to do something positive, but rather as a liability where things can go wrong, whether fumbles or injuries.  Ever since he chose the sure-handed but slow Chad Morton over Willie Ponder in 2005, it seems like we’ve never gotten as much out of the return game as we can.

Hixon is clearly our best returner.  It’s a shame the small chance of his getting hurt has to cost us so much in the return game.  The situation is symptomatic of the philosophy that keeps Ahmad buried on the bench: It seems like there’s this assumption that everything is fine, that all parts of the Giants machine are exactly where they need to be.  But things aren’t fine; it’s time for Tom to start maximizing the roster’s resources.

That said, there’s a chance that Hixon hasn’t been returning kicks/punts because of his foot/ankle injury.  If that’s the case, fine, that’s very reasonable.  But come playoff time, he better be back there.  We can’t afford to have him not be.

V. Eli

I know there have been mitigating circumstances the past two games, and I know he hasn’t played terribly.  But look: After we lost Plax and teams officially started ganging up to stop the run, we knew our fate would hinge on Eli.  At this point, you’d have to say things aren’t going too well in that regard.

Forget the play-calling and the pass rush for a second.  Haven’t Eli’s throws been off?  A little high, maybe?  I think his mechanics are a little out of whack.  He needs to play better.

VI.  Problems on Third Down

Just came across this statistic via Trent Dilfer on ESPN (he is an excellent analyst, in my opinion): Before the last two games, we were converting at a 45 percent clip on third down.  Against the Cowboys and Eagles, we were 6 for 26, or 23 percent.

This is bad, but it’s actually encouraging going forward.  Basically, it means our offense will improve because that low conversion rate has to be considered something of an aberration.  Granted, we’ve been bad on first and second downs the past two games, but I’m pretty sure we haven’t been that bad.  Our poor performance on third down, therefore, is a bit of an outlier and one that will even out in the future.  So while our offense has been very bad over the past two games, it hasn’t been as bad as it’s looked.

VII. Tackling

Two big and inexcusable plays from last night: 1) Michael Johnson letting Witten slip out of his arms on the game-clinching first down; and 2) Antonio Pierce going high on Witten, catching a stiff-arm, and letting Witten rumble down to the 1 on the Cowboys’ second touchdown drive.

A big play in the Eagles game: Kenny Phillips taking a horrific angle and missing LJ Smith on a third-and-long, which eventually led to a touchdown.

We need to tighten things up.

We’ll get to the game later on, but first, some historical perspective:

As much as we all suspended judgment after the Eagles game, it’s now time to face the facts: During the past two games, a Giants Super Bowl title has gone from probable to possible. Yes, I know, calling a Super Bowl ring “probable” is a little illogical. But let’s just say that going into last week’s game, we would have been absolutely crushed if the Giants continued their success only to come up short in the playoffs. That outcome, a nightmarish worst-case scenario eight days ago, doesn’t seem unlikely now.

As evidenced by last year, championships are determined by which team is playing its best when the playoffs come. After Week 15, with only two games to reverse the trend, it’s safe to say the Giants are not playing as well as some other teams. The Panthers are kicking some serious ass. The Cowboys and Eagles just beat us soundly. The Vikings have started to peak, and the Falcons are no cakewalk.

So we’ve fallen from the lofty perch we’ve occupied all season. The dream-like run in which wins came easy is over. We are now immersed in the same desperate struggle as every other team.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that Tom Coughlin’s Giants are uniquely equipped to weather this situation. Perhaps during that 11-1 start we forgot that this is the Giants we’re talking about, a franchise whose identity is tied to a belief that anything worthwhile does not come easy. It didn’t come easy last year, and it didn’t come easy in 1990, the most apt historical comparison if you want to be optimistic.

That year, a 10-0 start gave way to a 3-3 finish, with losses to the Eagles, 49ers, and Bills and thoroughly uninspiring wins against the mediocre Vikings, the lowly Cardinals, and the pathetic Patriots. We were written off, dropped by the experts from the ranks of the elite, but we kept grinding, eventually winning a championship that, like, 2007, owed itself to the team’s mental fortitude. Indeed, at their best, the Giants don’t dazzle, they grind.

Tom Coughlin’s Giants are a proud bearer of this standard of resilience. So while it may not look like it now, this is where we want to be. We don’t want to be above the fray, entering the playoffs with a dazzling 15-1 record. We want to be in the fight. Because there isn’t a team I like more in a fight than the G-Men.

I. Not Invincible

The first lesson from yesterday doesn’t have to do with “distractions” or even the absence of Plax.  Rather, we learned again that even excellent teams are capable of sometimes playing very poorly.  In brutal conditions – trust me, I was there – we turned in an awful performance against very good Eagle team that is probably one of the top five in the league right now.  And we got our asses handed to us.  It happens, even to 11-1 teams.

I’m assuming the Giants will bounce back against Dallas, although yesterday’s loss certainly raises the stakes for that one.  Once that happens, everything will be well and good in G-Men nation again.  In that sense, yesterday’s wasn’t a disturbing loss in that it shouldn’t shake our conception of who the 2008 Giants are: With all due respect to the Titans, we still have to be considered the best team in the league.

But the game reminded us that our path to another title isn’t inexorable.  In any playoff game, we can come out sloppy and get knocked off.  It has been a great season, but just being the best team in the league doesn’t guarantee a championship.  Just ask the 2007 New England Patriots.

II. Eli and the Meadowlands Winds

On the other hand, here’s what emerged from Sunday’s game that has me worried going forward:

We know that teams will stack 8 or 9 in the box for the rest of the year, especially after yesterday.  Therefore, the fate of our offense hinges on Eli, which means that we’re one bad Eli performance away from a heartbreaking playoff loss (and, even though the prospect off a post-season loss is not unlikely, anything short of a Super Bowl title will be severely disappointing.)

So it’s all up to Eli, which is fine except for this: Because we have home-field advantage, there is a chance that we’ll catch a windy-as-hell day like we did today.  And if we do, I think we’re in trouble.  Because as good as Eli has become, he is especially vulnerable to the Giants Stadium winds because he doesn’t throw a tight spiral.

Right now, this is just a theory: I hope Eli proves me wrong.  But, offhand, I can think of three super-windy days on which Eli has played poorly:  The Carolina playoff game in 2005, the Redskins home game late last year, and yesterday.

I know his final numbers weren’t all that terrible yesterday, and I know they were hurt by the Hixon and Smith drops.  But… they were also artificially aided by the garbage-time touchdown drive and the near-interception dropped by Asante Samuel.  (As I said to NYGMen commentator Dan, with whom I attended the game, Asante Samuel has a habit of dropping game-clinching interceptions against the Giants.)

So I can picture a scenario where our home-field advantage turns into a disadvantage.  Back in the ‘80s, people used to talk about how Phil Simms was uniquely qualified to be the Giants quarterback because of his tight spiral.  Isn’t it possible the converse is true with Eli?

III. Lack of Plax

Yesterday’s game answered all those who thought we’d be perfectly fine without Plax based on the Seattle and ‘Zona games.  Surely, he will be missed, especially in windy conditions when Eli’s ball takes unpredictable paths.

I have a feeling that most NYGMen readers weren’t on board with the whole “We won’t miss Plax, just like we don’t miss Shockey” thing.  But here’s why that premise is wrong anyway:

Shockey would brattily demand the ball, forcing Gilbride to draw up plays to keep him involved just so he would shut the fuck up (this according to Ralph Vacchiano of the Daily News.)  But Plax, for all his off-field antics – which, in my mind, have crossed the line and demand his removal from the team – was a total team player between the lines.

It’s qualities like these that make parting with Plax – if that is indeed what we do – so fraught with mixed emotions.  It would be easy to say, “The guy was just a complete tool,” and leave it at that.  But that’s just not the case.

IV.  Free Ahmad

Can’t we get this guy on the field already?  Did we forget how good he was in the playoffs?  At this point, we can’t afford not to use him.  Without Plax, we need playmakers.

The Giants have been really great this year on a play-by-play basis, even moreso on offense than defense.  But often – possibly due to the fact that our offensive dominance is based on the running game, which will usually yield fewer points than an explosive passing game – the scoreboard has failed to fully reflect our dominance.  It’s great to pound the rock down teams’ throats, but no team is without the need of big plays.  A guy like Bradshaw can provide some; at this point, it’s criminal to keep him buried on the bench.

I can totally picture a post-season scenario in which we completely outplay the other team, but only have a 10-point lead in the third quarter.  And then they break off a big play, then Eli throws a pick on a high pass that goes off Hixon’s fingers, and then we’re in danger of an awful loss.

We need firepower.  Put in #44.

(Also on this note, can Hixon please get back to returning kicks?  I’m hoping that Colonel Tom is just protecting him from injury and that he’ll be back deep when the playoffs come.  But please, we’re really sitting on too many resources here.  It really might bite us in the ass.)

V.  The Lack of a Pass-Rush

You can live with a big game by Westbrook – he’s an awesome player who capitalized on some missed assignments to break a couple of long gains.  But to me, what’s more worrisome going forward was our total lack of pressure on McNabb.

Despite our good sack totals – we are tied for fourth in the league with 37, and are seventh in FootballOutsiders’ Adjusted Sack Rate – our pass rush has been inconsistent this year.  Without it, our defense is penetrable.

I suppose the overall theme of this post is that while we are good, we’re not so good that there aren’t scenarios under which we can lose.  At 11-1, it might have been easy to forget that.  Yesterday was a reminder.

Regardless of what happens with the legal process, I think Plax has exhausted his chances with the Giants.  To give him another one would be to play the part of the enabling fool, and would give the impression that his actions – not just in this latest incident, but all year – are acceptable.

They aren’t.  I’ve tried to defend Plax for the past few months, referring to his antics as “manageable.”  This argument no longer holds.  The accumulation of bullshit is too much to overlook.  He has to go.

The Giants organization has always prided itself on its moral uprightness.  Sure, this is a bit of a fairy tale – see LT, LT, and LT – but you’d like to think there is a grain of truth to that.  Now is the time for the Giants to step up and prove it.

That said, I’m sympathetic to the argument that what Plax did doesn’t necessarily make him such a bad guy.  Clearly, he’s not the only athlete bringing a loaded gun into a club.  Just as clearly, there’s some sort of cultural difference at play here, so it’s not entirely fair to judge him by the standards of my culture.

But that’s sort of the problem: The cultural standards that don’t judge Plax harshly for this are wrong.  Because even if he didn’t have malicious intentions, what he did Friday night – he was drinking while fiddling with a unsecured gun in his pants that evidently didn’t have adequate safety controls – was dangerous and uncondonable.  It’s up to the Giants, the NFL, and New York City to send that message loud and clear.  This means punishing Plax in a more severe way than he and many others might feel is warranted.

If Plax feels victimized here, I do have some sympathy. But there’s also a big part of me that says, “Tough shit.”  Throughout his Giants career, the guy has shown no respect for the rules everyone else abides by.  Despite the suspension earlier this year and the 50 slap-on-the-wrist fines, he has shown little contrition for repeated unacceptable behavior.

So the Giants should cut him quickly and in whatever way makes sense salary-cap wise.  The NFL should suspend him for the remainder of the season.  And Bloomberg should keep up his tough talk about punishing him to the full extent of the law.  Guns are some serious shit, and if Plaxico Burress has to pay the price so that people understand this, so be it.