Oct 292009
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Arizona Cardinals 24 (4-2) – New York Giants 17 (5-2)

by The Hack for BigBlueInteractive.com

Game Summary: The New York Giants suffered their second loss of the season on Sunday at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals. The loss leaves the Giants just a half game ahead of the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles, both 4-2, going into a first place showdown with the Eagles on Sunday. Two weeks ago, there were few people who thought the Giants grip on first place would be challenged so early.

This game was a textbook example of how to blow a game you should have won rather handily. The Giants committed several very uncharacteristic penalties. They committed four turnovers. They allowed a running game to a team that can’t run out of the locker room without tripping up over the sideline paint. They abandoned their own running game with more than a quarter to go despite beating the Cardinals with it the entire first half. Unbelievably, the Giants worked out of the shotgun on every snap save two short yardage running plays from late in the third quarter on.

In a word, this game was frustrating. The Giants had won their last 15 straight games when leading at halftime, and were in position to do so again in this one despite a lackluster passing attack in the first half that resulted in the Giants leaving points on the field at least twice.

After coming out for the second half with two straight three and outs and an interception on the third play of the third drive, the Giants still had opportunities in the fourth quarter to at least tie the game but were thwarted by turnovers. Incredibly, P Jeff Feagles could not execute the simple plan to angle his punts away from PR Steve Breaston and shanked two successive punts giving the Cardinals excellent field position.

Arizona capitalized on the first shank, and after the defense held them following the second, the offense made Feagles’ punts look grand as they gave the Cardinals the ball at the Giants 20 on Manning’s second interception. It was during this three possession span that the game was finally lost for good, as the Giants offense just couldn’t stabilize or gain any rhythm beyond a play or two here and there for the rest of the game.

Tale O’ The Tape: Although the totals were close, the Giants led in every major statistical category save two: Turnovers and Final Score. During the game, a stat was shown regarding the Cardinals and turnovers. Overwhelmingly, they won the majority of their games when they protected the ball and got turnovers, and overwhelmingly lost the games where they were either tied or lost the turnover battle.

Head Coach Tom Coughlin preaches day in and day out that penalties, turnovers, and the field position battle are what determines the outcome to football games. On Sunday, the Giants were doomed due to their failure to win any of these phases of the game.

The Cardinals defense dared the Giants to pass and beat their one on one coverages as they played man to man with a single high safety for the majority of the game. Even though they had a minimum of seven in the box and on several occasions as many as ten, the Giants ran the ball effectively in first half. HB Brandon Jacobs averaged 9.2 ypc at the half, but only carried five times. HB Ahmad Bradshaw was less effective, carrying eight times for just a 2.0 ypc average.

It’s puzzling as to why the Giants won’t stick with Jacobs longer than they do when they open the game. It would seem logical that instead of splitting series between Jacobs and Bradshaw, the Giants should have Jacobs in the game on first and second downs and bring Bradshaw in on third downs and for an occasional series. For some reason, even though Jacobs was running effectively on the two carries he got on the first two drives, they went to Bradshaw on the third series, where he had four carries for just 10 yards.

Then, on the first touchdown drive they went back to The Beast and he accounted for all 29 yards on his way to the end zone. So what happens next? Bradshaw comes into the game on the next series and we see Jacobs just once more until the third quarter. This boggles the mind. There seems to be no continuity between the running backs, and it’s becoming apparent that the Giants miss Derrick Ward. Ward wasn’t as shifty as Bradshaw, but his power helped wear down opposing defenses when Jacobs got a blow, and now that isn’t happening.

Here’s another interesting statistic. Considering the Giants had the number one rushing team in the NFL last season and they have what is widely regarded as the best offensive line in football, why did Eli Manning pass seven times on first down during the first half? Of those, only three put the Giants in a manageable down and distance on the next play.

Put bluntly, the Giants appear to be stubbornly set to win the one on one battles with their receivers instead of doing what they’ve done best for the past three seasons, which is run the damned ball down their opponents’ throats. An after effect of this strategy is that the opposing defensive lines are NOT worn down. Instead of being engaged and having to fight to get off blocks and chase the ball carrier, the defensive line is in attack mode as they go after the QB. This plays into their hands and keeps them fresh. The entire country knows that opposing defenses do not want to try to tackle Jacobs on a regular basis.

Offense: Inactive for the Giants were RT Kareem McKenzie (groin), HB Gartrell Johnson, WR Sinorice Moss, WR Ramses Barden, and C Adam Koets.

It’s very difficult to look at this game without thinking about what could have been with regards to the offense. Although the Cardinals made an all out attempt to stop the run, they weren’t doing it effectively in the first half (the Giants ran at a 4.7 ypc clip in the first half). Despite this, the Giants continued to try to exploit the man on man situations throughout the game, at the expense of getting Jacobs carries and controlling the tempo of the game. For the first time this season, it appears that second guessing and/or questioning the game plan is in order.

First and foremost, the Giants know they’re going to see a crowded line with at least seven, most likely eight, and at times nine or ten defenders in the box. Even though they know this and repeatedly see it, the Giants inexplicably lined up in bunch formation (double TE offset I with only 1 WR outside the hash marks), usually on the short side of the field, on several plays. This formation effectively eliminates the need to defend one entire side of the field, and against a stacked front there are just not going to be many holes for the halfback to attack. The Giants’ hand has already been tipped, which adds fuel to the fire of the defense. Early on, the Giants passed out of this formation to Mario Manningham and Domenik Hixon, and both were successful. Later, the Cards clamped down on the outside WR and it didn’t work. As for running out of this formation, there was only one successful play, the fourth down conversion by Jacobs with RG Chris Snee pulling and leading the way.

Second, the Giants never once spread the Cardinals out in the first half. They allowed the safeties to crowd the line time after time, never getting anyone with speed in the slot to try to counter the blitz. With guys like WR Domenik Hixon,  H-Back Travis Beckum, and Ahmad Bradshaw (Bradshaw saw a lot of time in the slot at Marshall) on the roster, you have the tools to blow out of the slot and over those safeties for quick 10-15 yard strikes that should be wide open. Instead, the Giants never went more than three wide and instead attempted deep passes against the one on one matchups out of double TE or single TE with a back in to block sets. To make matters worse, the WRs didn’t take any advantage of these matchups, as they continuously went to the sidelines, the CBs best friend in man coverage.

Finally, the Giants attempted just one screen all night, and that was blown up when C Shawn O’Hara decided to let the strong side backer run right past him to nail Bradshaw for a five yard loss.

The Giants have to find a way to get the ball outside the tackles quickly if they’re not going to try to pound the ball against these stacked fronts, and frankly, that’s not part of their game. Until it is, it appears we’ll keep seeing attempts to win the one on one matchups they’ve been losing regularly since the Saints game. It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons they’re failing, but every Giants receiver is losing the battle to the ball. On Sunday night, every deep ball that was contested was won because the defender elevated sooner and higher than the receivers.

The Quarterbacks: Eli Manning had a bad game, and it wasn’t just his passing. He mismanaged the offense all night, checking in and out of coverages that resulted in two false start penalties and two delay of game penalties. That is inexcusable. As Head Coach Tom Coughlin said, “At some point you have to stop the chess game and execute the play.” It can’t be explained any better than that.

Manning finished with nearly identical statistics as his counterpart Kurt Warner, with the exception of throwing three interceptions to Warner’s one. Manning finished 19 – 37 for 243 yards, 1 fluke touchdown, and the 3 INTs. Manning’s rating on the day was a season low 47.5 and dropped his season rating to 92.5, good for 13th place in the league. Quite a drop from #2 just a scant two games ago, no?

Manning started off fine, as he hit two quick outs to his receivers in an attempt to keep the Cards honest. On 3rd and 6, however, apparently his calls weren’t conveyed to LT David Diehl, who’s false start put them in 3rd and 11. Manning then made a horrible read and nearly threw a pick six to SS Adrian Wilson.

On the next drive, actually on his next throw, Manning again tried to exploit one on one coverage by going deep to WR Domenik Hixon, but under threw the receiver slightly and was picked off by CB Rogers-Cromartie. Hixon didn’t help his QB, as he lost the battle to the apex of the ball, despite having position. Most disturbing about the play as it happened from the Cards 47 and right on the heels of a powerful 17 yard run followed by a nice 6 yard check down to Brandon Jacobs. That’s two drives halted due to mistakes.

Manning also helped derail the Giants third drive of the day. After eight plays saw the Giants go from their own 20 yard line down to the Arizona 39, Manning faced a second and six situation. On the next play, Manning was flushed out of the pocket and chased out of bounds for no gain. On third and six, he drew his first delay of game penalty and again put the Giants in a tough third down and 11 situation where the poorly executed screen mentioned above resulted in a five yard loss and a punt. Third drive derailed. That’s two by penalty and one by an interception.

After the teams traded touchdowns, Manning got a lucky break as his third pass of the day that should have ended up as an interception was batted across the field to Hakeem Nicks and resulted in a 62 yard touchdown. Blind squirrels and all that jazz…

The second half wasn’t any better. Another delay of game penalty changed a manageable third and two into a third and eight, and on that play Manning threw for Jacobs and the ball was deflected and intercepted at their own 20 yard line. Those mistakes led directly to the winning points.

Later in the half, in fact at the 1:08 mark of the third quarter, the Giants ran 25 of 27 plays from the shotgun formation and rushed only 9 times for 33 yards  in that time. The nail in the coffin was throwing into coverage to Steve Smith with the game on the line. The ball was picked off rather easily by S Antrel Rolle. On the play, Kevin Boss was wide open down the seam on the right hash that would have been an easy touchdown. He had at least three steps on the nickel back and there was no safety help.

On more than one occasion, Manning eschewed open receivers in the flats or curling under the CBs for the home run ball.

New Orleans 06. Minnesota 07. Washington 07. Cleveland 08. Now add Arizona 09. Hopefully this is that stretch that seems to come every year and it’s out of his system.

The Running Backs: So are the Giants a power running team or what? Brandon Jacobs had a fine quarter’s worth of work, carrying a mind-bogglingly paltry 13 times for a very respectable 76 yards. Seriously, what the hell are the Giants thinking when they’re manhandling the Cardinals attempt to stuff the run yet decide not to keep going right at them? Jacobs ran just 5 times in the first half, and despite having success, was removed from the game for great chunks at a time. After demolishing the Cards front seven for 29 yards and a bruising touchdown, establishing the will and momentum this team needs to have, he was inexplicably replaced on the next series by Bradshaw.

This was the game that Jacobs could have reestablished his dominance, and was well on his way to doing so, but for some reason Eli, Kevin Gilbride, or Tom Coughlin took that chance away. For most of the second half, Jacobs was relegated to pass protection.

Ahmad Bradshaw ended the game with 12 carries for just 32 yards, and that’s with his 14 yarder with a fumble as the cherry on top included. Clearly, this night was a night for pounding the rock with Jacobs and it’s truly a mystery why the braintrust went with Bradshaw so much more often than Jacobs while seeing the pattern unfold right before their eyes.

As mentioned above, the team sure looks as though it misses Derrick Ward. First off, absolutely nothing was lost going from Jacobs to Ward in the passing game, as Ward is extremely effective in pass blocking and has can catch as well as Bradshaw. What’s missing is that the power drop off from Jacobs to Ward wasn’t nearly as drastic as it is from Jacobs to Bradshaw. Danny Ware was supposed to be that Ward type, and once again, never saw the field on Sunday. As the results seem to bear out, the Giants should not be rotating backs by series but rather by down and distance. When you get a guy like Jacobs rolling, let him roll!!!

It needs to be said. FB Madison Hedgecock has regressed and is not opening holes the way he had been. On several occasions Sunday night, he actually blocked the wrong player or whiffed on the man he was supposed to take. It could be confusion as to where they think the pressure is going to come from or it could be that they’re overwhelmed by the numbers coming at them, but Hedgecock is guessing wrong way too often and is not leading the charge. Additionally, the Giants are not lining up with a fullback in the backfield nearly as often as they have in the past. On many double TE sets and all the three wides, the Giants are going without a FB. On the four or five occasions where the Giants did go with double TE offset I with Hedgecock in the backfield, they got their asses handed to them by the defense.

The Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: Sinorice Moss and Ramses Barden were healthy scratches.

Frankly, the receivers had a pretty rough night on Sunday. Eli Manning targeted the WRs 27 times but only completed 13 passes to them. As mentioned earlier, Hixon, Manningham, and Smith all had opportunities to get to balls that were either intercepted or knocked away. For some reason, over the past two weeks, the receivers have not been able to elevate and get to the ball over smaller defensive backs that they’ve had beaten.

Mario Manningham continues to be an enigma. Once again, he’s shown the ability to get deep but then can’t make the play. His crucial drop in the fourth period of a sure touchdown pass was really the point that assured the Giants of a loss. Instead of being down three points on their last two desperation drives, they were down seven and couldn’t be as conservative as they may have been had they only need the field goal to tie. Manningham is listed as having four dropped passes (Terrell Owens leads the league with seven) but that can’t be right as there have been at least twice that many dropped by him at this point. He was thrown to eight times and caught four for 47 yards. Manningham has serious talent but has a lot of work to do before he becomes a bona fide threat. In addition to his incredulous drop, Manningham also ran a horrid route on a crucial third and two play in which he was singled up on the corner but moved directly to the sideline, leaving Manning a tight window to fit the ball in and eventually catching the ball out of bounds and ending the drive.

Steve Smith continued his descent back to Earth this week, as he only caught four of ten passes thrown his way. He’s still among the league leaders, but now that the word is out on him Smith is seeing tighter coverage and more double teams over the top. Smith is still second in the NFL in receptions and third in yards. 34 of Smith’s 69 yards came on a crucial third and 14 play from the Giants three yard line that kept the final drive alive for a few more plays. Later in the drive, it appeared that Smith was interfered with but since he did not stop and allow the defender to run into him, he didn’t get the call. Finally, Smith couldn’t elevate to stop S Antrel Rolle from intercepting Manning’s last pass.

Although he’s obviously having a solid rookie season, Hakeem Nicks was the beneficiary of some serious luck when he happened to be in the perfect spot to corral the batted ball thrown to Manningham and turn it into a 62 yard touchdown. Nicks also caught three other passes out of the eight thrown in his direction, finishing with a total of 80 yards. Nicks also had a couple very nice blocks in the running game, one in particular on the 25 yard run by Jacobs.

Domenek Hixon caught only one pass for six yards, a quick hitter on the second play of the first drive. Hixon was targeted on Eli’s first interception, and although the ball was very slightly underthrown, Hixon should have been able to make a play on the ball but instead was out-maneuvered and out-jumped by the defensive back who came down with the interception. Plays like these have got to be made, and at the least, they have got to be broken up.

TE Kevin Boss caught three passes out of the four thrown his way, but was kept in to protect a lot more than you’d expect considering the Cardinals were bringing the safeties into the box for the majority of the game. Boss did have a sensational catch on the final drive which should have drawn a personal foul penalty for a helmet to helmet hit. Boss was also all alone down the seam but Eli didn’t see him and instead threw into coverage and was intercepted.

From a layman’s point of view, it would seem that H-Back Travis Beckum’s talents were tailor-made for this particular matchup. Beckum has been billed as “a nightmare for opposing linebackers to cover…he’ll create mismatches that can be exploited.” Yet there they were with the safeties playing at the line and the Giants never put the big, speedy target in the slot where he might have been able to do some damage against the linebackers. It’s an adjustment that was begging to be made and never was.

The Offensive Line: On Sunday night, the Giants had some problems on the line but mainly in pass protection. Other than the opening drive of the second half, the line did a superb job in the running game. Unfortunately, they weren’t given the opportunity to keep pounding the ball, and instead became pawns in the game of chess that Eli engaged in with the Arizona safeties and linebackers. Rookie Will Beatty, starting at RT for injured Kareem McKenzie, played a mostly good game. He was stout in the running game, and gave up just one pressure to his side on the night. He was ticketed with a false start penalty, but that’s to be expected by a rookie making his first start. What’s not expected is when David Diehl does it, which he did on the very first drive of the night turning a third and six into a third and eleven and eventually an incomplete pass. Diehl also made a huge mental gaffe on the Giants’ second drive of the half when he allowed DT Alan Branch go right by him on the first play of the drive and nail Eli for a 12 yard loss. It’s inexplicable on a four man rush as to why Diehl didn’t engage Branch. In fact, he engaged no one on the play. Essentially, that drive was killed before it ever began due to that play. All in all, Manning was sacked three times and hit another five times.

The Defense: This week, the Giants defense played a statistically solid game that belies the number of points that were given up. The Giants special teams and offense repeatedly gave the Cardinals offense outstanding field position. The four Arizona scoring drives started from the Giants 46 (TD), Arizona 37 (FG), Arizona 45 (TD), and the Giants 20 (TD). Arizona also started drives from their own 42, own 44, and the Giants 45 that didn’t net points. It’s a football tenant that you cannot surrender that much field position and come away unscathed.

The Giants got moderate pressure on QB Kurt Warner, but they didn’t blitz nearly as much as what was anticipated. The Giants attempted to get home mainly with their four down linemen and for the most part it worked, as the secondary did a good job of clamping down on the receivers for the majority of the night. Arizona never had a real sustained drive. Only four drives were more than four plays, two went for five plays and two went for seven. The Giants forced six three and outs and ended two drives after four plays by forcing turnovers. That’s eight highly unsuccessful drives. In fact, Arizona only completed 3 of 14 third down attempts. That should’ve been good enough to win this game.

Front 7: Once again, the front was still missing DT Chris Canty and OLB Michael Boley.

The Front 7 played a much better game this week, as the DE’s harassed Warner but only registered two sacks. Mathias Kiwanuka was the star of the group, and got better and better as the game went on. Osi Umenyiora is still struggling, but is showing signs of breaking out of his season long slump. As for Justin Tuck, he was extremely active and registered 5 tackles.

Unfortunately, the DT’s weren’t able to clog the middle as much as you’d expect and Arizona had an uncharacteristically acceptable day running the ball. Fred Robbins was the only tackle to get a hit on the QB, continuing a disturbing trend this year of the DT’s being unable to get to the QB. DT Rocky Bernard was nowhere to be found, and wasn’t in on a single tackle all night.

It’s very apparent that without Michael Boley, the Giants just do not have the athleticism needed at the linebacker. Chase Blackburn is all heart and a smart player, but he cannot keep up with skill players in space. Danny Clark is fundamentally lousy, as evidenced by the first down run by Beanie Wells that went for 13 yards. Inexplicably, Clark crosses the field and engages one of the Arizona linemen, running right across the face of Wells, allowing him to run right up the middle for the big gain! Inexcusable and bewildering. Antonio Pierce is the unquestioned leader of this defense, but he also gets caught up in the wash way too often, and was taken out of the play by the tight end on the middle screen that went for Arizona’s final touchdown.

It’s time to face facts. Jonathan Goff, Bryan Kehl, Gerris Wilkinson, and Zak DeOssie are abject failures at this point in their careers. Danny Clark (1 assist, no tackles) has not been the run stopper the Giants hoped he could be until someone else stepped up (which hasn’t happened anyway), and Chase Blackburn (1 tackle, 4 assists) is a solid back up and rotational player who plays well in spurts. Antonio Pierce (in on 10 tackles) gets by more on his intelligence than on his physical skills at this point in his career. Michael Boley’s return, if he can return at 100%, will help. But frankly this unit is the Achilles heel of the Giants defense and without dominant play from the defensive line, they are not getting the job done.

Defensive Backs: The Giants secondary had a much better game this week than last. CB Corey Webster had a tremendous game, forcing the Cardinals to find creative ways to get All World WR Larry Fitzgerald into the patterns unmolested. Fitzgerald was thrown to 13 times and only caught 6 passes for 80 yards. When Webster is locked down on a receiver, that receiver is essentially out of the game.

Terrell Thomas had an up and down game. He had an interception, but also allowed a couple of completions late in the game where he simply lost his man (once on Fitzgerald, once on Anquan Boldin). He also somehow blew containment and missed the tackle on Wells’ 11-yard touchdown run. All in all, the Giants secondary only allowed 11 passes to be completed to wide receivers. Against Arizona, you have to think you’re going to win the game if you do that.

Rookie Bruce Johnson was burned badly by a hobbled Anquan Boldin late in the second period that led to a field goal. The rook got caught peeking in the backfield and lost Boldin down the sideline for the huge gainer.

Safety C.C. Brown had a very good game attacking the run, but once again looked lost in coverage. He bit so hard on the throw to Fitzgerald from Rolle from the wildcat formation that he should forever be made to walk around with a hook in his mouth. It was obscene how wide open he left the most dangerous wide receiver in the NFL. Michael Johnson had four tackles and one QB hit, but once again had very little impact on the game. In comparing how disruptive and active the Arizona safeties were compared to the New York safeties, you come away with the feeling that the New York safeties are simply space fillers, tasked with tackling whatever comes their way rather than attack.

Special Teams: P Jeff Feagles had his worst day punting as a Giant. He repeatedly shanked his punts, giving huge field position advantages to the Cardinals in the second half. Hopefully, this was an anomaly and won’t happen again.

K Lawrence Tynes hit his two extra points and a short field goal. His kickoffs were adequate.

Apparently, the kick return team decided it no longer had to block because Domenik Hixon has returned. Hixon never had a lane open for him on the day, in either the punt or kick off return game.

Coaching: It’s time to question the offensive game planning of the Giants. It can no longer be glossed over that the Giants have not been able to find a way to get the ball downfield against a stacked front. The Giants are not going with quick reads and drops to use the opponents speed against them. They’re not lining up and pounding the ball to establish the running game. No rhythm has been established on offense, as they continue to switch up their running backs by series rather than by situation, ignoring the success or failure of the backs involved. If the Giants do not develop new wrinkles and get off their stubborn attempts to “take what the defense is giving,” they’re going to continue to lose. The Giants teams, when successful, are dictating TO the defense, not the other way around. It’s not clear who to blame here, but certainly Gilbride, Manning, and Coughlin are culpable in the design and execution of the poor plan seen on Sunday night.

Offensive Player of the Game: Brandon Jacobs was well on his way to a stellar game when the Giants inexplicably switched to Ahmad Bradshaw and then completely abandoned the run altogether despite being down less than two touchdowns with a quarter and a half to play.

Defensive Player of the Game:  Mathais Kiwanuka had a very good game. No explanation has been given, but Kiwi lined up at DT several times on Sunday and applied solid pressure up the middle, something the active DTs on the roster have not been able to do this season with any regularity. This is a wrinkle that should be used more often.

(Box Score – Arizona Cardinals at New York Giants, October 25, 2009)
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