Dec 302010
 
 December 30, 2010  Posted by  Game Previews and Reviews

By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Washington Redskins, January 2, 2011: This is a confusing and depressing time to be a Giants fan.  Less than two weeks ago, the Giants were 8 minutes away from a crushing, statement-making defeat of their arch-nemesis Eagles.  The win would have all but guaranteed the Giants the division title, regardless of what happened in Green Bay.

One of statements I absolutely detest on BBI is when a poster says BEFORE a game, regardless of the quality of the opposing team, “There is no excuse for losing this game.”  That’s a stupid statement.  Any team can beat any team.

But there is NO EXCUSE for allowing an opposing team FOUR touchdowns in EIGHT minutes in ANY contest, but especially one of such magnitude.  Sorry Giants, but you blew it, you know you blew it, and now you have to suffer the consequences.  You could have redeemed yourself last weekend against Green Bay, but you didn’t.  You made this mess.

To me, the Green Bay loss is at least understandable.  To lose like the Giants did against the Eagles was a body blow any team would have had a hard time recovering from.  Jim Fassel’s 2003 Giants never really did recover from the 2002 meltdown in San Francisco and that season started nine months later.  I was hoping against hope that the Giants would be just mad enough, and a Green Bay team just weak enough, for the Giants to pull it off.  But the Packers brought their “A” game and played with greater confidence, intensity, and urgency.  The Giants’ morale, already mortally wounded a week earlier, sank further once the defense couldn’t stop the Packers both before and after halftime.  Then came the turnovers.  The ones by the running backs were the most harmful.  The ones by Manning were the icing on the cake.

The great thing about football – and sports in general – is that, usually, the team that wins deserves to win.  The last two weeks, the Giants have not deserved to win.  Congratulation to the Eagles and Packers, you deserved it.  Giants, you came up short.

Which brings us to the most important question?  What happened?  We all know what happened, but do we really know why it happened?  It is not so important that we fans or the media figure it out, but the Giants’ organization had better figure it out.  The danger is they come to the wrong conclusions – that they are too dismissive of potential structural problems and merely blame fate.

There are three popular issues that fans are focused on right now: (1) the disappointing finishes to many recent seasons, (2) the quality of the coaching staff, and (3) the quality of Eli Manning.

Regarding the first point, I have a hard time making sweeping generalizations about all of the Giants’ seasons from 2004 to 2010.  In these seven seasons, not every season was a “collapse.”  But six of the seven can be categorized at the very least as “disappointing finishes.”  In a sense, that is true for every team that does not win a Super Bowl.  And taken overall, the Giants’ performance during this time period is impressive: 1 NFL title, 2 division titles, and 2 Wild Card appearances.  Assuming the Giants don’t make the playoffs this season, making the playoffs five of seven seasons is very good.

What sticks in people’s crawl is how some of those seasons ended.  Though many will simply say it is excuse-making, injuries to core players, some of the most important on the team, were significant factors in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2009.  The Plaxico shooting in 2008 derailed what looked like a sure Super Bowl season.  My personal take is this:

  • 2004 and 2005 were not collapses.  The Giants were hit very hard with injuries in both seasons.  And the Giants decided to sacrifice 2004 to get Manning started.  In 2005, the Giants were expected to be a last place team and ended up winning the division.  But injuries ravaged that team.
  • 2006 was a bad collapse.  The Bears and Titans games were lost in very strange ways that caused the downward spiral as injuries then kicked in. And the Giants weren’t even competitive in some games, like the one against the Saints.
  • 2007: World Champions.
  • 2008:  I said it as soon as he shot himself.  The hopes of winning another championship plummeted as soon as Burress was gone and Hixon was not a #1.  Toomer was at the very end.  Steve Smith was not Steve Smith yet.  The Eagles bragged after both losses in the Meadowlands how the absence of Burress completely changed how they defended the Giants.  If Burress doesn’t shoot himself, I think the Giants play the Steelers in that Super Bowl.
  • 2009: For various reasons, the Giants’ defense was so bad in 2009 that I can’t even comprehend how anyone can say this was missed opportunity.  Injuries to both running backs and the offensive line sabotaged the running game.
  • 2010: There are no injury excuses.  Yes, the Giants were without Steve Smith and Mathias Kiwanuka, but the Giants should have been able to overcome those.

Of the seven seasons, 2006 and 2010 are the most damning to me, and both really turned in games where the Giants’ could not maintain three-touchdown 4th quarter leads.

Moving on to point #2.  I’m a fan of Tom Coughlin.  I admit it.  I was not always, but as Giants’ fan for over three decades, I feel a special sense of loyalty to a head coach who brings home a Super Bowl trophy.  It’s kind of blood bond.  And it was the way that team did it.  Some fans want to say, “Well if it wasn’t for 2007, then Coughlin’s teams really haven’t done anything.”  What kind of crap is that?  How can you discount perhaps the most amazing playoff run in NFL history?  Against top competition?  In four games the Giants were all expected to lose and lose badly?  Yeah sure, it was luck. (sarcasm off)  Don’t be an idiot and minimize what YOUR team did.  It will be remembered for generations.

There are five currently active who have won Super Bowls.  And Tom Coughlin is one of them.  Yes, Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden may get back in the game soon, but I’m not convinced either of those guys is better than Tom.  Cowher has lost a lot of home playoff games on teams that were favored to win it all.  And his only Super Bowl win came against the Seahawks in possibly one of the worst Championship Games ever played (and with the aid of officials).  Stack that against beating the “best team in the history of football” and the “best coach since Lombardi” in 2007 by Coughlin.

The other thing is that change is not always good.  And often ends up being worse.  There is absolutely no guarantee that the Giants’ next head coach will be better than Coughlin.  Most coaching changes in the NFL don’t work out.  It’s just the nature of the game.  Of 32 teams, only one can hold up the Lombardi Trophy each season.  There is only one Bill Belichick and he coaches for another team.

Now that said, I do believe that a head coach’s relationship with a team can turn stale and that sometimes change is needed.  Are the Giants there yet?  I honestly don’t know.  One obviously does not want to pull the plug too late.  But one also doesn’t want to go through a chaotic transition period if one does not have to.  Fans forget what a coaching transition usually means.  It’s not usually as smooth at the transition the Steelers or Colts went through.

Eli Manning.  I fully understand that head coaches and quarterbacks bear the brunt of fan and media criticism when things are not going well, but it astounds me how vilified Eli Manning is by Giants fans and non-Giants fans.  Other than 2010, he has gotten better EVERY single year he has played.  He has been to the Pro Bowl (justifiably earned) and won a Super Bowl MVP (justifiably earned with two 4th quarter TD drives against Bill Belichick).  He carried his team offensively through the entire 2007 playoffs and was the best quarterback in either conference during those playoffs.  He followed up 2007 with a Pro Bowl performance in 2008.  He was one of the few bright spots on the Giants in 2009.  For a quarterback who many, including myself, never thought would be terribly accurate, he has become a 63 percent completion percent passer in a vertical, down-the-field passing attack.  Only five active quarterbacks have a Super Bowl ring and Eli is one of them.  The New York spotlight doesn’t bother him and he has a proven knack for bringing his team back from behind.  The guy is not a rapist or dog-killer.  In 2010, a down season, he has thrown for almost 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns.  The problem?  Obviously the turnovers.  Two years ago, the Giants set an NFL record with the fewest turnovers in a season.  The Giants have to figure out what is going on.   I probably have got about 40 years left in my life.  I’m pretty darn sure that when I die, Eli Manning will be regarded as the greatest quarterback in Giants’ history.  You guys and gals had better appreciate the man.

One final rant that we all hope is not true. Super Bowl victories are a rare, rare commodity. Peyton Manning, for all his accolades, may only win one in his lifetime. Ray Lewis may only win one. Most of the current stars and coaches in the NFL will not win any. Coughlin and Eli may have won their only one. It doesn’t mean there isn’t more glory in the future, but reaching that summit is a rare, rare thing.

OK…let’s move on to the game this weekend.

Giants on Defense: Something is missing.  The Giants’ defense has played very well for most of the season, but the last five quarters were a disaster and there were issues in games against the Colts and Cowboys.  The Giants do have a very good secondary and defensive line.  And the linebackers have played better than most expected.  But the defense does not intimidate other teams.  And when things start to go wrong, confidence plummets.  Why???  The Giants need a Ray Lewis-type – someone who has a commanding personality and imprints it on this defense.  But where do you find that???

What about the Skins?  Stop the run.  Watch Cooley and Moss.  Same as usual.

Giants on Offense: The Giants’ three worst rushing performances this year have come against the Eagles, Eagles, and Packers.  Ouch.  Obviously, some of that is based on the quality of the competition.  But one also wonders if the move back to rusty/ailing Shaun O’Hara was poorly timed.  What is clear is that Jacobs and Bradshaw hurt the Giants badly with fumbles (again) last week.  Hold onto the freaking football!  I’ll discuss these areas more once the season is over and when addressing team needs.

Why is Eli Manning throwing so many interceptions?  Partly it is on the receivers.  Partly it is on Manning, both in terms of making bad decisions and trying to do too much.  Nicks and Manningham will run better routes next year with another offseason under their belts.  And the potential return of guys such as Smith, Barden, and Cruz will help.  But is there something endemic to the Giants’ offense that causes these problems?  It obviously wasn’t a problem two years ago.  But why is this happening?  One can’t be put into a position to lose a guy like Steve Smith and have all of these picks happen.

Even if Hakeem Nicks plays (doubtful), the Giants have to get their running game going against the Skins.  I assume Boothe will be back at left guard and Seubert at center.  Smash mouth with the big offensive line.  Try dumping the ball off more to Bradshaw and Boss.  Get Travis Beckum involved. The Skins will role their coverage to Manningham.

Giants on Special Teams: Changes have to be made here, possibly starting with the special teams coordinator.  For as much time as the Giants spend on special teams, they shouldn’t be this bad (and I’m not talking about the punter).

Brandon Banks is limited by a knee injury, but the guy is a dynamite return man.

Coaching: Perhaps the biggest loss in the offseason was the loss of Quarterbacks Coach Chris Palmer.  He was a steadying influence on Eli just like he was on Tony Romo in Dallas.  When he left, Mike Sullivan was moved from receivers (which seem to have suffered) to quarterbacks coach.

Prediction: I tell you, I think the Redskins can win this game.  The Giants sound like a defeated and beaten group.

It was absolutely unacceptable to see how the Giants finished up 2009 against the Panthers and Vikings.  Both teams could have scored 60 points on the Giants had they wanted to.

What if the Redskins blow out the Giants, and the Giants finish the season with two embarrassing losses for the second season in a row?

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Eric Kennedy

Founder and owner of BigBlueInteractive.com, which is now entering its 20th season.

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