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 UltimateNYG.com, 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.