Brandon Jacobs: Scat Back

December 9th, 2009

I talked about ebb and flow in my last post and how I felt, even after a disastrous Thanksgiving night game, the Giants would find a way to beat the Cowboys. Probably more impressive than anything is the way they did it. Offense, defense, and special teams all played a big hand in a game that kept the season alive and sets up a revenge game versus the Eagles.

Let’s start with the defense. Give credit to the coaching staff for making lineup changes. Canty (for Robbins), Kiwi (for Osi), and Goff (for Blackburn) all started and by all accounts played well. Most interesting was second year linebacker Johnathan Goff, who looked active and not overwhelmed in his first start. If anything, we’ll find out what he can do against some good competition the rest of the way. One of the first axioms of having a good defense is stopping the run. The Giants completely shut down the Cowboys on Sunday, which was especially impressive considering how they looked versus Denver last week and Dallas in the first meeting. When you stop the run, the other team becomes one-dimensional. A turnover caused by Kiwi late in the first half setup a go ahead touchdown, one of the biggest plays of the game. Nice job by Bill Sheridan, being much more imaginative on defense. I loved the standup look by the defense before the snap, which confused the Cowboys’ protection. This unit certainly responded.

One of the first things I noticed about the offense was some throws by Eli Manning. I do believe that his foot his indeed bothering him. There were two specific plays. The first was a pass on a forced rollout to a open receiver which was under thrown. Eli has been very good at making that throw this year. The other was a long incompletion intended for Steve Smith which didn’t have the usual look when Manning play fakes and goes deep. What’s puzzling is on Ahmad Bradshaw’s big run in the fourth quarter, Manning was seen sprinting (yes, I rewound my DVR) down the field to block. I believe that running in a straight line is actually easier than dropping back, planting, and throwing. Something to watch going forward. This is the first time I really noticed it.

Now the offense wasn’t spectacular by any means, but it answered a 10-0 deficit in quarter two with a touchdown and then down 17-14 in the third, made the biggest play of the game (and maybe the season). Manning’s four yard flat pass to Brandon Jacobs turned into a 74 yard touchdown pass down the sideline. It was significant to me for two reasons. First, and obviously, it erased another Cowboy lead and gave the Giants the lead for good. Secondly, it told me something about the Cowboys. When you come into Giants Stadium with a chance to secure your first place position while also knocking the Giants out for all intent and purposes in regard to their season and give up a play like this, something is wrong. Brandon Jacobs is one of my favorite players and that play had me jumping off the couch, but you can’t, as a defense, allow that to happen.

Finally, Domenik Hixon put the game away with a punt return making in the trifecta of for the offense, defense, and special teams. Great team win. The victory was huge for obvious reasons, but more importantly the Giants now own the tiebreaker on Dallas come playoffs. If Dallas loses at home to San Diego next week, the wheels will be completely off. They started coming off on Sunday. And yes the Giants still have a chance at the division given this result, but I’ll defer any enthusiasm I have until after the Philly game. The team should certainly be motivated, after being embarrassed earlier this year. Win and it could be the start of something. Lose, and it’s back to clawing and scratching.

What The Hell’s Going On Out There?

December 3rd, 2009

The defense continues to be porous. Denver, that Kyle Orton led unit, was getting five yards a pop with each first down run it seemed, making second and third down very difficult to defend. I’m not going to spend much more time on this because it’s not very deserving, but one play summed up how this unit plays. On third down in the red zone after the Giants had pulled to within 16-6 and maybe, just maybe going to make a game of it, the Broncos got a wide open receiver over the middle for an uncontested score on third down. And they also were called for defensive holding. Nice job guys.

While the defense invents new ways to look bad, I can say at least they showed a smidgen of fight. You saw players pissed off and taking some pride. What can I say about that sleep walking Giant offense? They seemed to have no fire at all, and this was the unit expected to carry us through the end of the season. Eli Manning looked almost completely disinterested, and I have to admit my dissapointment in that. Where was that pissed off attitude he showed in New Orleans? Talk about playing with zero sense of urgency. Brandon Jacobs, sporting a leg injury and a short work week, should gave taken a back seat to Danny Ware (oh sorry, DJ Ware). Jacobs looked painfully slow, and the run blocking continues to be a problem. Ware’s run on third and one in the third quarter was unfortunately the most dynamic play of the evening. And an indication that Ware was the only back with the type of moves that was going to make something happen. Again, this is a coaching decision as Ware should have gotten more touches in the first half despite the fumble. And while I’ve complimented our receivers this year (they are really the only part of this entire team that has produced a positive this season), they are still at the stage where they are going to struggle against teams with veteran defensive backfields (see Philly and now Denver) who know how to play. There weren’t many open receivers to throw to.

I know it was a short week with travel to a visiting team that was desperate, but I expected this team to at least battle and make a game of it. The season now comes down to two games: Philly and Dallas back-to-back at home. I actually think Dallas is a good matchup for us, just due to the ebb and flow of how an NFL season can go. But after that, I only see two more wins. Right now bad karma is swirling at the Meadowlands. Eli Manning’s renewed foot problems, Bill Sheridan’s tenuous coaching position. I don’t think a playoff berth is in the cards, but I don’t want to see this team do an el-foldo like Jim Fassel’s teams were characteristic of. It’s up to the players and coaches to get through it.

The Luck Of The Flip

November 24th, 2009

That’s basically what it came down to, because had Atlanta won that coin flip they were going to deliver the Giants a certain death blow. I’ll mention a few things about what was really an entertaining game if you like offense, because both defenses stunk out the joint. Eli Manning and his receiver played terrific and were the difference in the game Sunday. Manning was the best player on the field. Last week, Mike Francessa on WFAN posed a question, asking “how do you define these Giants?” His point: you simply can’t. It used to be power football, with emphasis on running the ball and pounding the QB. It ain’t there this season. And while I agreed with his assessment, you do have to admit the quarterback and his receivers have really done a nice job this year and have a bright future together. But it’s a shame that your offense puts up 31 points and for a second straight week watches as the defense allows a visiting teams to waltz down the field for game winning or game tying score (it would have been game winning again yesterday if not for the coin flip). Playoff teams don’t do that.

I had wanted to write about the woes on defense during the bye week, but didn’t have a chance. While many were optimistic about the defense after the San Diego game, I still had my doubts. The conventional thinking seemed to be the Giants held the Chargers to 14 points for most of the day, and then just happen to stumble in the final two minutes. I can’t accept that, here’s why. First, the Chargers can’t run the ball. Watch LaDanian Tomlinson. He labors, even when he makes a good run these days. Secondly, the interior of the Chargers offensive line was banged up (and we did get some push). Thirdly, and most importantly, we held the ball for over 40 minutes on offense. Forty minutes! Of course the other team isn’t going to score much. But they still put 21 on the board. A good defense, in a game like that with those variables going for you, allows a 10 spot. Nothing more.

So where exactly is the problem? It’s really an old sports proverb. Being strong up the middle and the Giants right now are like a house of cards up the middle. In baseball, you need a catcher, 2B/SS, and center fielder. In hockey, it’s your center and goalie. Football is the same deal. And it starts on the line. The Giants are built on pressure, and whoever is playing DT is not getting that push needed. So what happens? The DE’s play suffer because the QB can now step up in the pocket, away from the outside rush. The middle linebacker now has to worry about shedding a blocker instead of making the tackle (and Antonio Pierce can’t do that anymore). Finally, the safety, aptly named because it’s the last line of defense, has to be able to make a play and neither Aaron Rouse nor CC Brown is talented enough. And when the middle suffers, so does the rest of the defense.

On Sunday, there was a bit of improvement for a half. They got a turnover, seemed to be altering their blitz packages to force the offense to check down rather than take a sack. But in the second half, the Falcons torched the Giants for three TD’s and a FG. It could have easily been four TD’s if not for a drop.

The win keeps the Giants in the hunt. Last week’s bye yielded better results than they had in the previous four weeks, with Philly, Dallas, and Atlanta bumbling themselves. But why does this game feel a lot like the 2003 game when the Giants beat the Jets in OT to keep things alive, only to ultimately delay the inevitable. I hope I’m wrong.

Holding, Number 76 Offense…

November 9th, 2009

I hate to ever focus on one play, especially one involving a player as good as Chris Snee, but his holding call was the single instance in this game that gift wrapped a victory to the Chargers. Snee, the Giants’ best offensive lineman, can’t be flagged for a penalty when you’re first and goal from the six with a chance to end the game. The penalty set in motion a series of decisions and plays that left the Giants in a state of shock followed by limbo. Is this team ready to fold it in for the season, or going to suck it up and show what they are made of?

The most questionable decision of the day was to go conservative after that penalty and not throw into the end zone, instead calling a flanker screen and two running plays. Play for the field goal, go up by six, and make a touchdown beat you. Generally, I’m all for running the ball and draining the clock or making the opposition use their timeouts. And when you consider how tough the defense looked on the previous two possessions, I can understand why Coughlin had confidence in the unit. After all, it was the defense’s efforts that got the ball back to the offense within striking distance to take the lead, followed by the Terrell Thomas pick that put the ball just six yards from putting the game on ice. Lawrence Tynes’ kickoff thru the end zone made that decision look even better. But San Diego went 80 yard in eight plays to give the Giants one of their more bitter defeats in recent history.

The defense has been the team’s weakness during this three game losing streak, so was it bad judgment for Coughlin to trust them one last time? More so, the game was right there in the hands of your franchise QB. That’s why you pay him, to make big plays when needed. While running the ball on third down did accomplish running time off the clock, a run also certainly guarantees your kicking a field goal. Playing not to lose? Call it what you want, I didn’t have a problem with the call while it happened. But in retrospect I have to admit the Giants, who I have claimed on this blog to be too aggressive and not work the clock properly, probably messed this one up but not sticking to their normal tendencies. The call there was throw into the endzone. Of course, there’s no guarantee you get the touchdown, but it’s about putting your team in a position to win.

Eli Manning played a fine game. Despite very spotty protection, he made good throws throughout the game and didn’t turn it over. He also showed really good mobility in the pocket, avoiding the Charger pass rush to make plays. That’s what probably makes the last decision by the Giants even harder to accept. Your QB is playing well, let him finish it off.

I called this game a must win. I still think it was. A good team doesn’t lose four straight games, including two at home to West Coast teams. Especially two teams I consider soft. Nope. The Giants are most likely headed for 8-8 or 9-7. Any silver lining? It looks like Philly/Dallas and Atlanta are the only wildcard contenders, and the Eagles or the Cowboys have to win the division. I don’t see any other team contending for a wildcard. Unless you want to include the Giants. Right now, I can’t.

Hello Third Place

November 2nd, 2009

If ever a team looked to be begging for the bye week, it’s the Giants. Three straight losses to conference opponents have left this team looking very, very troubled. How embarrassing is it to come off two straight losses and have your doors blown off by a hated rival in a game for first place? First and foremost, the defense looks slow and completely lost. They’ve lost their swagger in a span of three weeks. Versus the Eagles, 28 points were scored on possessions of four plays or less. That’s right, four plays or less. That’s beyond completely unacceptable. Sure the offense isn’t pulling its weight, but you need to play solid defense in this league or you aren’t going to win. Manning thew a lazy interception early, but the defense had a chance to keep it at only 10-0. They failed miserably, allowing the Eagles to convert a touchdown after one had just been nullified due to a penalty. Then the real stinger occured when, after actually making it a game at 16-7, they allowed the Eagles to score on just one play after a long kickoff return before the half. Again, you need to buckle down in that spot and hold the offense to a field goal.

They have some major players out on every layer of the defense in Canty/Boley/Ross, and hopefully when these three do return it will inject some energy into a defense that just looks lifeless right now. But on top of all that, we could be looking at a philosophical problem. I’d not sold on Bill Sheridan as the DC. Sheridan’s monotone actions on the sideline pale in comparison to Steve Spagnolio’s energy and enthusiasm. Beyond that, Sheridan and his subordinates appear unable to make in-game adjustments. The team looked completely unprepared and out of position on the long touchdown run in the fourth quarter. And I’m afraid the players, who have become accustomed to success, aren’t buying whatever schemes the coach’s are throwing out there. I’m no defender of Osi Umenyoria, but was his altercation with Sheridan in the preseason a tip off? Compounding the problem is the cornerstone of this defense, the line, is greatly underachieving. Particularly at fault are the DT’s. Barry Cofield and Fred Robbins aren’t getting the pocket pressure or run stoppage that they have in the past. Both are coming off knee surgery, so one can only hope the can return to prior performance levels soon. With Canty out, you’d figure Rocky Bernard would be getting reps and making an impact. He’s been AWOL all year. Right now, that’s looking like a bad signing. With the linebackers looking pedestrian and the secondary having to lean on CC Brown as the last line of defense, things are very dismal. The real question is, after the Super Bowl run of 2007 and playing at such an exceptionally high level in 2008, has this squad hit the wall?

Back to the offense. This team is on pace again to have two 1,000 yard rushers. But it’s hardly the same feel as last year. The Giants aren’t running the ball effectively, particularly Brandon Jacobs. Is it really eight men in the box? The passing offense looked overmatched as far as receivers being able to gain separation versus the Eagles, putting added pressure on Manning. And please tell me why the Giants didn’t have a greater sense of urgency in the third quarter as far as breaking the huddle and hurrying the offense? Finally, attempting a 47-yard FG when down by 23 in the fourth quarter? I really have to question the decision making here by Coughlin.

Next week’s game versus the Chargers is about as close to a must win as you are going to see at this point of a season. The Giants can no way afford to go into the bye week at 5-4 and on a four-game losing streak. They’re home, with a West Coast team traveling East. It’s up the coaching staff to get this team re-focused and not let the season slip away. Because right now it is slipping.

Flat And Out Of Sync

October 28th, 2009

Sunday night I was able to sit in section 224, Suite A and watch the game between the Giants and Cardinals. The suite was owned by the firm doing the electrical work on the new stadium, and it was a first class box.

Unfortunately, when you are in a suite there are many distractions, like the TV right above me playing the Angels/Yankees ALCS. Being an Angels’ fan, I had a hard time diverting my attention away from the television which also made it difficult to get a good feel for the football game. Simply too much stimulus.

What I was able to decipher from the football game was a team that really looks, all of sudden, out of sync on offense. Receivers appeared to be well covered, and at other times not ready for the ball when delivered their way. A lot of Manning’s passes were forced throws, and the offensive line appeared to be allowing pressure to come up the middle (incidentally not from the right side, where rookie William Beatty started and did well). The competition has become better the last two weeks, but I’d hardly call the Cardinals a high pressure defense. They looked like it on Sunday night. The other oddity was where did Brandon Jacbos disappear to? The combination of power and speed was the best we’ve seen from Jacobs this year, but the Giants seemed to get away from the run game (and Jacobs) for a portion of the game. The Giants insist that eight man fronts calls for throwing the football, but I think were still showing too much shotgun formation and not using play action nearly enough. Out of sync? Identity crisis? I’m not really sure how this happens in a span of two weeks.

Defensively, the Giants played pretty well. There was good pressure on Warner and the defensive backfield did a nice job on the talented Cardinal receivers, but unfortunately didn’t get much help from the offense or punter Jeff Feagles. Feagles probably had his worst game as a Giant, shanking punts after Giant three-and-outs, giving the Cards a short field on at least three different occasions. They finally cashed in.

An odd game to say the least. The Giants out-stat the Cards, including time of possession, and if Mario Manningham doesn’t drop a perfectly thrown touchdown pass in the fourth quarter which resulted in three instead of seven points, the game’s outcome may have been different. But four turnovers will always be the difference, including two on the final two drives in an attempt to tie the game.

No Pass Rush, No Chance

October 23rd, 2009

If you can’t make the quarterback uncomfortable, especially one with the ability of Drew Brees, you’re probably in for a long day. 48-27 constitutes a long day in my book. The Giants were unable to lay a hand on Brees all day and it resulted in the Saints converting touchdowns on five of their six possessions in the first half. A few things bothered me about the defense. First, where were the adjustments? Without watching the game film, it appeared the Giants were attempting to rush just four in the beginning of the game with no success. With that not working, was there any attempt to bring pressure via the blitz? Also, why did it seem the Giants were playing a lot more zone when man-to-man is their usual coverage scheme? Let’s face it, the Saints are a real good squad right now (tops in the NFC IMO) and are going to make a lot of teams look bad. That, combinied with it being a New Orleans’ home game after their bye week, made it an extremely tough game for the Giants. But we’ve come to expect a better effort from this team in that type of situation.

Offensively, the Giants were off this much (my fingers are about two inches part as I write this). Manning twice just missed big plays to Dominik Hixon and Steve Smith that could have been touchdowns in the first quarter. And despite all the horrible defense in the first half, a Jints’ goal line stand with just under a minute left somewhat incredibly left the game at 27-17, with the Giants to get the second half kickoff. Here’s where the turning point of the game was. With no timeouts and the ball at the 16 yard line (after a personal foul penalty on the Saints), the Giants elected to not take a knee. There’s your first chance to second guess. I say it was the right move. You’re indoors, and getting in position for a long field goal attempt is quite possible. Plus, you have to recognize the Saints are rolling and points are going to be needed. After a completion to Mario Manningham which put the ball on the Saints’ 34 yard line, the coupe de grace occurred. Manning, who is usually money in a two minute drill, elected to not spike the ball, allowing almost 20 valuable seconds to run off the clock. That waste of time, combined with the team obviously hurried to get off the next play, resulted in a sack/fumble/loss of football to the Saints who got a gift wrapped touchdown to close out the half. Game. Set. Match.

Final point. It has zero to do with the outcome of the game, but the officiating in the game was downright unacceptable. A multitude of bad calls: incidental contact on Corey Webster on a long incompletion (even the Saints receiver was laughing), late horse collar flag on a kickoff after Saints’ return man lobbied for it, phantom flag on Shuan O’Hara negating a terrific TD scramble/throw by Manning, several non calls on Saints’ DB’s interfering with Giant receivers down the field, Dominik Hixon being called for offensive pass interference (for what, breathing?). Ed Hoculi’s crew had a bad day and I am sure Mike Peoria will let them know about it.

Official Start of the 2009 Season

October 15th, 2009

There’s not much to talk about. The Giants seemingly moved the ball at will, and defensively were all over the Raiders. It all added up to a 44-7 rout. The most interesting part of the game for me was getting a preview of what my seats may look like next year. I sat in section 124, ten rows up from the endzone. A different perspective indeed. Without question, it’s pretty cool seeing goaline offense/defense down at your end.

The second most interesting part of the game was after favorite son Sinorice Moss muffed a punt deep in Giant territory with about five minutes left in the first half. The Raiders recovered, scored, and made it 28-7. On the kickoff, the Giants were penalized and pinned back at their own five yard line with about two minutes left. And there trotted out David Carr in place of Eli Manning. Manning, who played a superb 28 minutes, wasn’t injured either. I found that very interesting. What does that tell you about how the Giants felt about the Raiders, sending out your backup in the first half, while pinned at the five? A stop, and subsequent score by Oakland, could make the game a wee bit interesting. Antonio Pierce summed it up best by saying it felt like a scrimmage. So I guess that’s what you do in scrimmages, replace your starting QB.

Rather than focus anymore on the game, let’s look ahead to the Saints. New Orleans, Minny, and New York are the top tier teams right now in the NFC, so this is a barometer for both squads. Most pundits suggest the Giants run the ball, control the clock, and keep the ball away from the potent Saints’ offense. That’s all fine and dandy if your offense is sub par. But the Giants are hardly sub par. I would rather see, and I am sure we will, an offense with a bit more passing to loosen up the Saints, and then hit them with the run. Remember last year in Arizona? I don’t remember the running game being that dominate (in fact, Jacobs was out as I remember) but Eli had probably his best games of the year. And the Cards last year were one of the most explosive offenses in football. Throw in the fact Manning plays exceptionally well in this type of weather venue, I’d be on the attack. I’m not necessarily promoting a shootout, but the Giants will have to score points to win. And keep this in mind about this suddenly vaunted New Orleans defense: two of the first four games were against rookie QB’s (Stafford and Sanchez) and a third against a guy making his first start ever (Kevin Kolb).

Defensively, you rush and you cover. Getting to Brees is difficult, as he has is offense down pat and possesses one of the quicker releases in the game. But the Giants play tight coverage with their corners, and they’ll be a vital piece in the outcome of this game. If they can cover the initial read, that will give the defensive line a chance to pressure Brees when he looks for his secondary routes.

The “Frozen Tundra”…

October 14th, 2009

People assoicate that phrase “frozen tundra” with the famous Ice Bowl game between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys, and even more so with the late John Facenda of NFL Films. Everyone imitates it, but as I found out last night in an interview with Steve Sabol, Facenda never actually spoke those words. Here’s the true story:

Steve Sabol wrote those very words while working on the Packers’ highlight film for that season. Vince Lombardi, an English major, wanted to review the script before it went to production. Lombardi first informed Sabol that “frozen tundra” is redundant (Wester’s defines it as a level or rolling treeless plain that is characteristic of arctic and subarctic regions, consists of black mucky soil with a permanently frozen subsoil). Secondly, Lombardi told Sabol that because they had installed a heating element under the field, the field was actually never frozen, and he would not allow those words to be used!

Interestingly enough, the Cowboys did have “frozen tundra” in their highlight film that year because GM Tex Schramm wanted it that way, blaming the loss on the elements. John Facenda did not narrate that film.

So, next time someone jokes about the “frozen tundra of Lambeau Field”, politely correct them.

A Collective Sigh Of Relief

October 7th, 2009

That’s what you heard from a nation of Giant fans on Sunday when Eli Manning didn’t go in for x-rays and was being taped up on the sideline. I originally laughed at Eli for “hoping and skipping” in the pocket, but after the play the first thing that popped (I probably shouldn’t use that word) into my head was his Achilles. Thankfully it wasn’t, with the diagnosis being Planta Fascitiis. I’m no doctor, but I remember it being described to me as walking with a small stone inside the bottom of your shoe. We all know that feeling. So, Manning will be a question mark right up until Sunday most likely.

While watching the game, I envisioned this blog entry being name something like The Other Steve Smith, because #12 just had one hell of a first quarter of the season. Our Steve Smith, after four weeks, leads the NFL in receptions and yards. Who would have imagined? I’ll be interested to see how Smith and the Giants respond when the double teams start (have they already?) and the competition gets better. But if there’s one play that really stuck with me on Sunday, it was the one after the roughing call (a bad one BTW) where Smith got smacked and had the pass dislodged on a route over the middle. The very next play had Smith was running a 25 yard post down the middle of the field for a touchdown between three defenders. How do you like those onions?

The other player who caught my attention (actually last week in Tampa, too) was Michael Boley. He’s all over the field. In pass coverage. Rushing the passer. On run plays. This was a great signing, so let’s hope his return from a knee scope (more surprises) won’t be too long.