New Orleans Saints 48 (5-0) – New York Giants 27 (5-1)
by The Hack for BigBlueInteractive.com
Game Summary: After destroying three straight inferior opponents, the New York Football Giants marched into New Orleans confident and limped out beaten and humiliated. The Giants said all week long that their goal was to stop the run and force QB Drew Brees and the Saints to beat them through the air. While the Giants did a fairly decent job of holding the running game in check in the first half, that’s about all they stopped as Brees threw at will and with impunity all game long.
Last week, the Giants scored touchdowns on their first four drives of the game. This week, the Saints returned the favor and almost made it five for five but the Giants held the Saints on a 4th and goal at the 1 before the half ended. Manning and the Giants kept it from becoming a laugher for a little while, however by the end of the half this one was essentially over. The Saints were all over the Giants from the opening gun. On just the second play of the game for the Giants on offense, the Saints sent seven men at Manning. Seven. That trend continued throughout the day, as defensive coordinator Gregg Williams mixed up his blitzes all afternoon, confusing the Giants offensive line and harassing Eli.
Naturally, after a beat down like this, The Corner Forum had its share of Chicken Littles predicting the falling of the skies. Some however, tried to keep this game in perspective. First, as Eric from BBI mentioned in his preview and on the air, the Giants would miss three key members missing from the defense. OLB Michael Boley was sorely missed, as was S Kenny Phillips and CB Aaron Ross. Add to that the fact that DT Chris Canty was still out of commission and it’s easy to see that the Giants were undermanned from the get go.
Secondly, the Giants had their chances. This did not have to be a blowout. On the very first drive, Corey Webster allowed a ball to go right through his arms that would have ended that threat early. They also had an opportunity to stop the Saints on a fourth down play, but Pierce took an odd angle and didn’t meet RB Mike Bell in the hole when he had him dead in his sights.
Then on the second drive, Justin Tuck missed knocking the ball out of Brees’ hand on the long pass to Colston down at the goal line, and on the next play, if OLB Danny Clark (who stayed with Shockey the whole way) just turns around he has an easy pass defense and possibly an interception.
The Giants had plenty of chances on offense, too. The Saints played well on defense, but the Giants had plenty of opportunities to score early and didn’t. On the very first drive, Eli had Hixon deep on third and short but under threw what could have been a touchdown or at the least a long gainer to stop the Saints’ momentum. There was pissing and moaning on BBI about this play, as the Head Coaches on the site claimed it was foolish to go deep on third and short. Manning, however, explained that the Saints threw a no safety look at the Giants as they clamped down on the short receivers leaving Hixon one on one with the corner. Eli said that’s a match up they win, and he had to try to exploit it. He didn’t. On the second drive, Eli over threw a wide open Steve Smith for what certainly would have been a touchdown, and the Giants had to settle for three points.
Once the snowball got rolling, however, it was impossible to stop. The Giants stayed with the Saints, trading touchdowns on their next two drives each, but after stopping them at the 1 yard line with about a minute to go the Giants committed the dagger turnover and then allowed the Saints to score a fifth touchdown just before half time that basically sealed the game. Bad penalties (two personal fouls on kickoffs giving the Saints great field possession), poor tackling (i.e., on the 40 yard completion to Colston on the fourth Saints touchdown drive, Thomas fell down, Michael Johnson missed, Webster missed, CC Brown Missed, and Webster got him on the second attempt), poor blitz recognition and pickup, poorly thrown balls, untimely turnovers, and general disarray doomed the Giants.
Tale O’ The Tape: Four things stood out in the first half regarding the statistics:
- The Saints converted five of seven third or fourth downs. The Giants just could not get off the field when they had the opportunity.
- Drew Brees was 17 for 20 passing for 247 yards, and was only hit twice and not sacked. The Giants got absolutely no pressure on Brees and never made him uncomfortable.
- The Giants missed several big pass plays that were right there for them that would have essentially given them a 28-27 lead at the half had they connected.
- New Orleans average starting field position was their own 42 yard line.
Things didn’t get a whole lot better in the second half. The Saints ended the game with 36 minutes time of possession, 28 first downs on 70 plays for 492 total yards. The Saints forced two turnovers (scoring 14 points off them) and gave up none. Though they gained 133 yards on 39 rushing plays, the Giants held them to a 3.4 ypc average. That’s about the only goal the Giants accomplished on the day.
Well, the Giants also averaged a healthy 4.4 yards per carry running the ball, but though they were successful they basically, abandoned the running game at the half. So they had THAT going for them, which is nice…
Other than losing the turnover battle 2-0, the other metric that shows how poorly the Giants played was their 3-of-10 effort on third down. That’s not even close to being acceptable.
Offense: Once again, the only missing member to the offense was HB Danny Ware. Every week we hear that these guys are close. Ware practiced last week, and there was no reason given as to why he was missing again. Well, I figured out a few new adjectives to describe the offensive performance this week, and they are sputtering, misfiring, and at times bewildering. Frankly, the Giants had plenty of opportunities to score points.
If not for a couple of poor throws by Manning, the Giants would have answered the two opening touchdowns from the Saints. The Giants were running the ball quite well, with power and authority. If the defense could have held the Saints a couple of times, this game could have gone the Giants way as they were moving the ball on the ground very effectively, which is what they need to do to win.
Breakdowns in blitz pickups by both Boss (fumble) and Bradshaw (interception) cost the Giants 14 points. A (phantom?) holding penalty on Shawn O’Hara took another touchdown off the board (and even though he never held, he was illegally downfield). The Giants receivers also had a rash of the dropsies, as at least 4 catchable balls were allowed to hit the carpet. One good thing that stood out, however, is that the Giants offense never gave up and played hard throughout the game.
The Quarterbacks: Well, one week after claiming that Eli Manning was a legitimate early MVP candidate Manning had his worst game of the year. He wasn’t completely off, but he was off just enough to miss several big plays that could have kept the Giants in the game early. Stats wise, Eli finished the day 14 for 31 for 178 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, and 1 fumble when he was sacked from the blind side. Manning absorbed some punishment on Sunday. He was hit four times and sacked once. Two of the hits were brutal, including one that was called for roughing the passer.
Although Manning did miss a few throws and threw a costly interception under heavy pressure, the problems weren’t entirely on him. Several receivers dropped catchable passes, and on the turnovers his blitz protections were nonexistent which caused the pressure that influenced both.
Manning still ranks #7 in the NFL with a 102.2 QBR, clearly his best start to any season to date. This game got out of hand early and Eli and company have not had to play catch up and clearly weren’t sharp in doing so.
Back up QB David Carr played the last couple of series and performed well, particularly when he stood strong in the pocket and got rocked after delivering a perfect touchdown strike to his favorite receiver, Hakeem Nicks.
The Running Backs: It sure appeared that this would be the week that we saw HB Danny Ware return to the games, but he once again was inactive. It’s apparent that no one wants to look at the positives in this game regarding the Giants, but frankly the Giants had the running game rolling. If the Giants’ defense played just an average game, there is little doubt that the offense could have pounded the rock at the Saints defense all day with good results. Starting HB Brandon Jacobs only got 7 carries for 33 yards. That said, early on, he was hitting the holes decisively and with power. It appeared that the Giants went to Bradshaw much earlier in the game than usual due to the deep hole they got into early. Jacobs also suffered a stinger (which he came back from) that may have kept him out for an extra series or two early. He wasn’t thrown to often, but Jacobs was open on several occasions out of the backfield when Manning looked for other receivers. It appeared that on more than one occasion, the check down would have resulted in high percentage positive yardage plays.
Jacobs did have an impressive touchdown catch called back because of penalty. It actually may have been the best catch we’ve ever seen him make. At any rate, it should be noted that Jacobs ran for a 4.6 ypc average and looked all the world for having his breakout game had the Giants been able to hold the Saints to a sane amount of points.
HB Ahmad Bradshaw had a good day on the ground as well, carrying 10 times for 48 yards and a touchdown in which he mimicked TE Jeremy Shockey’s gallop in the end zone. Bradshaw also ran with authority and power, but just as Jacob had limited carries due to the lopsided halftime score, the same was true for Bradshaw.
Ahmad did have trouble with picking up the blitz. This is a problem that he’s had in the past, but he has improved quite dramatically since the preseason. The biggest problem came on the Giants’ second drive of the second half. On first and ten from the New Orleans 40 yard line, the Saints threw an all out blitz, sending eight men after Eli, against max protection (HB and TE both stayed in to block). Only three receivers released into the play. The offensive line and Kevin Boss did fantastic jobs to clog it up and keep the blitz at bay, but pressure came free from Eli’s right as for some reason Bradshaw released to the left to help on a double team with Boss. Under duress, Eli tried to unload the ball deep to Nicks but was hit and woefully underthrew the pass for an easy interception. After the play, Bradshaw drew the wrath of Eli right on the field which is an extremely rare sight. It’s these breakdowns that have kept Bradshaw off the field on third downs in the past. He needs to become consistent and more effective in this role, as this happened on a first down.
HB Gartrell Johnson played on specials and did not get a carry in the game.
FB Madison Hedgecock wasn’t in the game long enough to make much of a difference, as the Giants only ran 17 times. If Hedgecock was in the game for more than 13 or 14 plays I’d be surprised.
The Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: Ramses Barden was a healthy scratch, and with TE Kevin Boss back in action the entire compliment of receivers was available for duty. Overall, the group had a so – so game. Several dropped passes caused long down and distance situations that could have been avoided.
WR Steve Smith continues to pace the league in receptions, tied with Hines Ward at 41. He’s also still among the leaders in receiving yardage, average yards per game, touchdowns and first downs. Smith was only the third most targeted receiver on the team on Sunday, partly because for much of the game Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter took turns taking him out of the game. He ended up catching 4 of 6 passes for 44 yards, but dropped a critical pass over the middle early in the third quarter. On the Giants’ second drive of the game, Smith ran a brilliant seam route that should have resulted in a touchdown but Manning overthrew him by inches. It appeared that Smith could have caught the ball if he’d laid out for it, but instead it glanced off his fingertips. Frankly, as there was no safety anywhere near the play, Eli could have put a little more air under it and let Smith run under it. Shoulda Coulda Woulda.
WR Mario Manningham had a decent game as he caught 4 of 9 passes for 50 yards and wrestled a touchdown pass away from Greer in the second quarter. Manningham had a couple drops as well, but it seems that Manning throws a hair behind him on crossing patterns. It’s not apparent if they are meant to be back shoulder throws that Manningham isn’t catching or if Manning underestimates the speed at which Manningham is running. At any rate, this reoccurs each game and needs to be fixed.
Whether it’s taking a quick pitch at the line of scrimmage and turning it up field or streaking down the sideline, Hakeem Nicks is fast becoming a critical weapon in the Giants’ arsenal. On Sunday, Nicks was targeted 8 times and caught 5 passes for 114 yards. His 37-yard touchdown came in garbage time, but the separation he got on the cornerback was noteworthy. It was the third straight game with a touchdown for the rookie. He also showed that he has plenty of speed on the crossing pattern that he turned upfield for 58 yards. That’s a play you don’t see the Giants use very often, and it would be good to see it become a more viable part of the offense.
The Giants tried to get the ball to WR Domenick Hixon deep on a couple of occasions, but were unable to connect. Frankly, Hixon does not come off as a polished receiver on TV. He appears as if he’s fighting the ball at times, and at others like he’s fighting to get into position to make a catch instead of it just happening smoothly. He ended up with 3 catches for 22 yards, though he was targeted 7 times.
Though TE Kevin Boss was back in the lineup, none of the three tight ends did much in the passing game. Boss was instrumental in one play, however, as he failed to engage SS Roman Harper as he came around from Eli’s left and plastered him, causing a fumble. Boss instead stood his ground while Harper went around him and then assisted LT David Diehl against the DE. That fumble led to 7 points.
The Offensive Line: The bottom line? The offensive line played a pretty good game against some confusing looks and sophisticated blitzes. The Saints had no rhyme or reason to their packages, mixing them up in all down and distance situations (i.e., sending 8 men in on Eli on the first down play mentioned above). Considering that around the middle of the second period the Saints defense knew that the Giants were going to have to pass on nearly every down, the line did a hell of a job allowing Eli to only be sacked once (and that was on Bradshaw) and hit 3 other times (the second sack was against Carr on the last play of the game).
In the running game, as long as it lasted anyway, the line was able to open holes for good yardage for both backs. Not to sound like a Pollyanna, but the Giants’ running game would have been extremely effective if the defense could have kept them in the game.
The Defense: Holy crap. Does anyone in The Corner Forum remember a few seasons back when the BBI home page picture was a collection of Oompa Loompa’s in a staggered formation with their arms spread wide with the caption “Giants Secondary”? Well that could apply to the entire defense this week.
This was not a breakdown of just one player (C.C. Brown, cough cough…Kevin Dockery, cough cough!). This was not a failure solely on the part of a coach (Bill Sheridan, cough cough!). This wasn’t a matter of being unable or unwilling to make adjustments (there were plenty of adjustments made, specifically in the second half).
The Giants all but admitted after the game that they were reading and believing their press clippings. They talked about the Saints completely crossing up their tendencies and doing the exact opposite of what they were doing prior to the bye week out of almost every formation they were in. They discussed the fact that they didn’t have a good week of practice and thought they’d be able to just turn on the switch come Sunday, Saints prolific offense be damned. They detailed the fact that several players were just a little off in their positioning. They even lamented their injury situation to an extent. So what was this? This was an old fashioned ASS kicking. An ass kicking by a really big guy wearing double steel toed boots. The Giants did absolutely nothing right on defense. As Eric from BBI rhetorically asked in The Forum, “It’s like the Giants have never seen a play action pass before.” The entire defense bit hard, and repeatedly on play action from Brees.
Sure, the Giants were missing starters Boley, Phillips, and Ross as well as key backups Canty and Sintim. But who really expected the rest of the team to fall like a depleted Jenga tower? There weren’t THAT many pieces missing!
As we all know, this defense thrives on pressure. Pressure causes the opposing QB to make mistakes. It can cause sacks, turnovers, and even points. Winning the line of scrimmage is what it’s all about for the Giants and unfortunately, the Giants were never close to winning the line on Sunday. The Saints contained the blitz and kept the interior of the line from getting any traction on the day, which allowed the tackles to take the ends wide for most of the afternoon. Since Brees is the fastest QB in the league with regards to getting rid of the ball (average release is 1.7 seconds after the snap), there was just no time for the ends to get to Brees. He was unmolested in the pocket and just picked the secondary apart.
Front 7: Once again, the front was still missing DT Chris Canty and OLB Michael Boley.
After three weeks of dominating weaker opponents, the defensive line laid one huge collective egg on Sunday. That egg could make an omelet big enough to feed an army. The DEs (Osi Umenyiora, Mathais Kiwanuka, Justin Tuck and Dave Tollefson) never got a sniff at Drew Brees the entire game. It was like watching a loop of the same play every time Brees dropped back, as the DEs would attempt to go wide on the tackles and either never get to him or go past and behind him as Brees stepped up into a clean pocket. The DE’s didn’t register a sack and Tuck is the only one who touched the quarterback (once).
Not to be outdone, the interior of the line didn’t accomplish too much either. As noted earlier, it was quite obvious that the Giants were hell bent on stopping the run, evidenced by the complete sell outs on play action by the back 7. Even so, the interior of the line accounted for only 5 tackles on the line. Barry Cofield was a non factor all day, as was Rocky Bernard for the most part. As for Fred Robbins, he committed two of the three encroachment penalties that the Giants committed. What was really a puzzlement was that the interior of the line got almost no push and zero penetration on the pass rush. And it was NOT as if they were double teamed. The boys up front were simply manhandled and never figured out a way to get to Brees.
OLB Chase Blackburn got his second consecutive start filling in for Boley, and though he was in on 11 tackles, got the only sack, and had another play in the backfield it was his problems in coverage that were exposed. All Chase really does in coverage is try to fill space. It’s not that difficult for opposing receivers, be they TEs, WRs, or RBs, to just let Blackburn drift to a spot in the zone and then drift to another themselves, all alone.
As mentioned earlier, MLB Antonio Pierce had an opportunity to nail HB Mike Bell at the line of scrimmage on the 4th and 1 play on the Saints’ first drive but didn’t get to him in time. That play kind of set the tone early for the Giants, as the entire team was either tricked away from or arrived late to the ball all game long. Although the team tried to get to Brees with primarily the four down linemen and tried to flood the passing lanes with bodies, the Giants did send Pierce on a number of blitzes where he just didn’t get home. Blitzing isn’t necessarily Pierce’s strong point, and when he doesn’t get pressure the defensive backs are in trouble. There’s one more thing to say about Pierce, and that is he shouldn’t be covering a tight end, let alone a WR the likes of Marques Colston 20 yards down the field. Whoever drew up that coverage needs to go back to the drawing board now.
The other OLB, Danny Clark, was dreadful in coverage. He had one half a nice play as he never bit at all and stayed with TE Jeremy Shockey the whole way on his touchdown catch, but for some reason never made a play on the ball. It was actually a very good play in which he did not finish. Clark was also exposed in coverage all day long. The Giants attempted to get LB Bryan Kehl on the field presumably for his speed, but he wasn’t much better. Early on, the backers had absolutely no answer for the short passes going to Lance Moore, Jeremy Shockey, and the backs flaring out from behind Brees. On the first two drives, Brees threw short (7 yards or less) nine times and completed every single one of them.
Defensive Backs: The New York Giants secondary, minus Kenny Phillips and Aaron Ross, came into this game ranked number one in the NFL against the pass. They came out of this game wondering if those old Oompah Loompahs of days past will get a shot at their jobs. Not a single person in the secondary, not even Corey Webster, played a good game. The two worst, however, were nickel back Kevin Dockery and SS C.C. Brown. Dockery is still rounding into shape following injury, but since the Giants played the majority of the game in nickel you’d think he’d have been more active. With all those receivers running free throughout the secondary, Dockery was in on just 2 tackles. He seemed confused, got turned around, and was a non factor for the entire game. CB Terrell Thomas also has to be looked at with a critical eye, as he bit hard on both play action touchdown passes that Brown is being torn apart for in The Corner Forum. He lost contain on the receiver by peeking into the backfield and turning towards the line of scrimmage on both of those plays, allowing the receiver a free run into the zone vacated by the never present Brown.
Speaking of SS C.C Brown, there are a number of threads on BBI that have already filleted him to pieces. The only thing worth repeating is that he never got better as the game went on. He continued to make mistake after mistake after mistake. All we can do at this time is hope that this was an aberration and that he’ll learn from these mistakes. Like it or not, the Giants are stuck with Brown for the long term this season.
More worrisome than how Brown played may be the way that Michael Johnson played. Johnson loves to attack the line of scrimmage, and seemed at times crossed between whether he should remain in coverage or get to the line. He was nowhere to be found for long stretches of the game, and was in on only two tackles all day. Your free safety has got to have a better stat line than that. Johnson also continues to go for kill shots, and ends up bouncing off receivers (i.e., Marques Colston on his long catch and run in the second quarter). Frankly, he is nowhere near a fundamentally sound tackler and has not progressed as many, including me, thought he’d progress this season.
Corey Webster did not commit pass interference.
Special Teams: P Jeff Feagles punted four times, and none were returned for positive yardage. CB Kevin Dockery let him down by not finding the ball around the five yard line on a kick that ended up a touchback.
K Lawrence Tynes seems to have gotten into a groove, as he hit field goals of 49 and 38 yards, and actually had a very good day kicking the ball off, putting three of six into the end zone and recording one touchback. Granted, he was in a dome.
Welcome back, Dominek Hixon! Seven kickoff returns for 230 yards, including a long of 68! Twice, the kicker prevented a touchdown. What a difference a return game makes. Hixon also returned two punts for 27 and 24 yards respectively. This was a stark reminder of how much his presence was missed on returns. Here’s your hat, Sinorice, what’s your hurry?
The coverage teams tackled well. They also committed personal fouls well, and gave the Saints a short field on several occasions. This is unacceptable, as a short field for a team like New Orleans means imminent points coming their way.
Coaching: Much has been discussed on BBI and in the media about the game planning on both offense and defense. As noted above, Eli Manning stated that they were taking what the defense was giving, and had them fooled on several occasions but did not execute. Sometimes, you have to look at the success of the call as it put the team in position to win the down and leave it at that.
Second guessing a play that would have worked if executed properly because one may think it was too risky is short sighted and displays weak mindedness. This “yeah, but they should have been trying to convert the first down” bullcrap on BBI is mind numbing. They called the right play. The players did not execute a number of easy pitch and catches that they make 19 times out of 20.
As for the defense and DC Bill Sheridan, the Giants ran the exact defense that Eric of BBI called for in his game preview. The problem, again, was execution. Valued and respected Corner Forum contributor and previous game reviewer Joey in VA posted the following thread that I believe all members should read.
Don’t kill Sheridan, he did what’s been working.
Fact: Tony Romo and Jason Campbell have big issues reading underneath coverage and inside passing lanes in Cover 2 shell formations. Both tend to hold the ball when they see the shell over the top and are unable to read the coverage quickly enough to hurt a defense for the most part. Dallas was able to run on us b/c of the soft Cover-2 and their big OL but Romo cost them the game because he simply cannot read a coverage. Campbell handcuffs the Redskins offense for the very same reason.
I won’t even mention the Chiefs, Raiders or Bucs because they are so devoid of offensive talent it’s not worth mentioning.
So, against two teams that have some weapons we threw up the shell and the QBs puked up the game to us, and it certainly stymied the dregs we faced as well. What Sheridan has done in his time so far is to rush 4 a majority of the time and play a lot more Cover-2. If you ever doubt if we’re in Cover 2 because you don’t see two safeties splitting the field, watch the MLB’s depth and how the CBs play up to force the short stuff.
So what would you have Sheridan do against a team that has weapons out of the backfield and likes to test the edge and has speed to kill downfield? A cover 2 is the best way to use your CBs to slow down the runs on the outside (CBs will play force in the cover 2 while safeties have deep over the top responsibility) and keep the deep ball from killing you. The issue this week was that #58 is NOT a cover 2 MLB, nor is Danny Clark or Chase Blackburn. They are big, physical run stopping LBs and not the smaller fleeter coverage LBs that a successful C-2 demands.
So you’re missing your starting CB, FS, WLB and you see Colston, Shockey, Moore, Bush, Henderson and Meacham staring you in the face. You have two Pro Bowl DEs and two solid tackles and you can bring in a pretty damn good DE to mix it up and put more pressure on an offensive line missing its Pro Bowl LT with just your front four. Sounds like a plan to me, especially given the way Webster, Thomas, Johnson have played in the secondary.
Sheridan did a) what has been working and b) what would be most logical given the opponent. It didn’t work because the front four did not get pressure and we never adjusted to the Saints protection schemes. Drew Brees shredded us and perhaps would 9 times out of 10 even if we have Boley, Ross, Canty back and we play more man and blitz more. I was as angry at Sheridan as anyone yesterday, but in his place 99% of us would take our chances rushing 4 or 5 with our DL talent and hoping our secondary can limit the damage.
Interestingly, when OLB Danny Clark was on BBI Online Live a few weeks ago, he mentioned that Sheridan has not shown the majority of his blitzes yet. That changed somewhat last week as the Giants did blitz Oakland QB Jamarcus Russell with a couple new wrinkles that indeed rattled him. Those wrinkles were not used in this game, and you have to wonder why it is that Sheridan didn’t try something new to get into Brees’ kitchen a little if he in fact has these wrinkles in his bag of tricks?
Finally, another thing to keep in mind is what Bob Papa said on BBI Online Live last week. You can’t tell what’s really going on by watching the play by play on television. The coach’s tape tells the story, not television. Papa said that BBI’ers would be quite surprised at how much they think they know is wrong, both good and bad, if they had access to the tapes.
It’s not always the coaches, guys, and it sure appears in this one the offensive game plan was sound enough to win. The defense line could not get pressure on Brees, and that’s what let the defensive plan down. A suggestion for all readers at The Corner Forum would be to seek out posts by contributors, “Dorgan”, “M.S.”, “Joey in VA”, “Anish Patel” and “cjac” on the day after the games and read their thoughts. Generally, they’re the most informative and insightful as they all have experience either coaching or playing the game at a high level and understand the technical reasons, if not the strategic as well, for what went right and wrong. Frankly, as far as football goes, those and a few others in The Corner Forum should be required reading. I may start putting a few links to threads I believe are germane to the game reviews or provide insight that I may not have detailed in the future.
Offensive Player of the Game: Hakeem Nicks is becoming the WR the Giants needed to replace Burress. He was easily the highlight of the game on offense for the Giants on Sunday.
Defensive Player of the Game: There wasn’t one. I’m changing this to Special Teams Player of the Game this week and giving it to Dominek Hixon for his stellar performance returning kickoffs and punts.