By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com
Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, September 25, 2011: One of the moderating roles that I take on BBI is playing devil’s advocate. I am not sure if I do this consciously or subconsciously, and I know some BBI readers absolutely hate it. When the Giants lose and I say it’s not so bad, I get chastised. The reverse holds true. It just may be the argumentative nature of a Libra.
Coming off a win, you would expect me to be more positive, but I’m not. I said last week that the Giants-Redskins game was far closer than the final score. So was the Monday night game against the Rams. If it were not for unforced errors on the part of the Rams like the muffed punt and the fumble on the lateral that was returned for a touchdown, the game may not have gone the Giants way.
When I look at this Giants team right now, I don’t like what I see in two critical areas:
(1) The pass coverage is atrocious. The Giants have given up over 600 yards passing in two games to two teams not particularly well respected for throwing the football. The Giants have invested a lot of high draft picks and money in the secondary and the team is not getting a return on its investment despite a strong pass rush. The Giants look completely lost playing zone coverage. The linebackers and safeties are biting too hard on play-action. Aaron Ross has been so bad he was benched in favor of journeyman Michael Coe. Antrel Rolle seems miscast in the slot in nickel coverage. Even the Giants’ best corner, Corey Webster, is not playing up to his high-priced contract.
(2) The offense has taken a step back. Part of that is due to free agent losses. Part of it is due to new and inexperienced players. But Mario Manningham is also not playing as well as he did last season. And outside of Hakeem Nicks, the Giants appear to lack passing targets that seriously concern an opposing defense. Simply put, for a variety of factors, the Giants’ offense has regressed from the previous seasons. I think the running game will come around as the offensive line gains cohesions and Jake Ballard and Henry Hynoski gain experience. Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw look like they are running well. But opposing defenses will load up against the run as the Giants’ passing game remains inconsistent. The Giants are so desperate for a viable slot receiver that 35-year old Brandon Stokley actually saw significant playing time only days after he was signed. That’s not good. And the Giants have lost what may have been their third best receiver in Domenik Hixon.
What I’m saying – and this will not resonate well with many fans – is that the Giants are not good enough to seriously compete in 2011. They are not good enough because there are talent deficiencies in the secondary and at wide receiver and tight end that cannot be overcome. The Giants will probably beat a team or two that they are expected to lose to, and they will probably lose to a team or two that they were supposed to beat. But this has the feeling of an 8-8 season to me.
I’m not buying this “Dream Team” crap. Personally, I think the Eagles have set themselves up for a big fall. But the Giants don’t match up well with the Eagles right now. If Rex Grossman can burn the Giants for 300 yards and the Rams’ receiving corps can burn the Giants for 300 yards, can you imagine what Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy, Brent Celek, etc. are going to do to this group? If Terrell Thomas wasn’t hurt… If Prince Amukamara was healthy and had not missed any learning time… If Jonathan Goff wasn’t on IR… I’d be far more optimistic.
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles’ run defense has been atrocious and that gives the Giants some cause for optimism. But for some reason the Giants didn’t run as well on the Eagles last season as other teams did. And if I’m the Eagles, I double Hakeem Nicks, load up against the run, and dare Eli Manning and the other receivers to hurt me. If the Giants don’t run the ball well, I can’t see Mario Manningham (if he plays), Brandon Stokley, Victor Cruz, Travis Beckum, and Jake Ballard beating the Eagles. Can you?
I think the Eagles are very beatable. But not by this Giants’ team. Vent at me all you want, but I have to call it like I see it. (I can already hear Randy in CT calling me a big pussy).
Giants on Offense: I expected the Giants’ offense to play far better than it did against the Rams. There were 12 offensive possessions for the Giants and five of those were three-and-outs. Converting on third down is still a major problem. By not converting, the Giants are not keeping drives alive and that reduces the number of offensive plays, including rushing and passing opportunities.
To the Giants’ credit, they stuck with the run against the Rams. Bradshaw, Jacobs, and Ware rushed the ball a combined 34 times. That’s commitment to the running game even though the offensive line, tight ends, and fullback were up and down in the run blocking department. The Giants will need that kind of commitment and far great productivity against the Eagles if they are going to steal a win. The problem is will the Giants’ poor pass defense defense and inconsistent third-down offense enable the offense to be patient with the running game? If the Giants fall behind 14-0 or 21-3, can the Giants stick with the run?
The Eagles have been dreadful in run defense – 30th in the NFL, allowing almost 300 yards in the first two games. But the Giants have not rushed the ball very well against the Eagles in recent years – one of the big reasons why Philadelphia has a 6-game winning streaking against the Giants. It is one thing to say the Giants “should” run all over the Eagles; it’s another thing to actually do it.
The Eagles have struggled against the run because their defensive line remains on the small side and their linebacking corps is not very good. There are also question marks with their defensive coordinator. The obvious strategy for the Giants is to play smash mouth from the start. I wouldn’t try to be cute and out-think the Eagles on this one. I know they are going to stack the box but the strength of the Giants’ offense right now is the running game and the weakness of the Eagles’ defense is the rushing defense. Play to your strengths and opponent’s weakness.
When the Giants do throw the football – particularly on third down to keep drives alive – I would emphasize more of the short passing game this week with passes to the halfbacks, tight ends (both Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum), and even the wide receivers. I know that Coughlin, Gilbride, and Manning like to take their deep shots, particularly against the Eagles and they have had success doing so, but the 2011 Giants’ offense is not the 2008-2010 versions. Dump the ball off to the backs. Convert on third down. Chew up that clock and keep the Eagles’ offense off the field.
Giants on Defense: I love the Giants’ defensive line. I hate the secondary. Not only are starters like Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, Chris Canty, and Linval Joseph playing as well as I could possibly hope, but the Giants are getting very good play out of their reserves such as Rocky Bernard, Jimmy Kennedy, and Dave Tollefson. And the weakness of the Eagles’ offense is their offensive line. So this looks like match made in heaven for the Giants.
Except… that damn back seven on defense. The injury to Terrell Thomas was a season-changer for the Giants. Not only was Thomas darn good, but Aaron Ross has failed miserably in picking up the slack. Worse, with Prince Amukamara out, the nickel/dime packages have also been tremendously affected. The Giants have been playing Antrel Rolle as the nickel corner in the slot and he’s been terrible at it. Guess what? The Eagles love to play DeSean Jackson in the slot. Do you think they are salivating over that matchup? They also are eyeing whoever is playing right corner for the Giants, be it Aaron Ross or Michael Coe. It doesn’t stop there. Mathias Kiwanuka is a good player moving forward, but he’s stiff in coverage. Greg Jones is still a rookie who has a lot to learn about playing coverage. Jon Goff will be missed in this game.
Simply put, this is a competitive mismatch. The Giants’ back seven is not talented enough to cover the Eagles’ weapons. Now, you can say the pass rush is the great equalizer. The problem is that the pass rush was good against the Redskins and Rams too – and those teams are far, far less dynamic throwing the football than the Eagles who do a good job of using underneath receivers against quick pressure.
If I’m the Giants, I really change it up here and risk LeSean McCoy – who has been a Giant killer in recent games – beating me on the ground. Jacquian Williams would start for me since he athletically has the talent to play with the Eagles’ speed. I might even consider getting Spencer Paysinger on the field more or maybe Tyler Sash. Yes, that’s a lot of rookie inexperience against a very talented and complicated Eagles’ passing game. But I can’t see guys like Kiwanuka, Deon Grant, and Greg Jones athletically matching up with Philadelphia. So pick your poison!
The Giants did show the NFL something last year. If you pressure/blitz Michael Vick from his left and prevent him from scrambling in that direction, you make him really uncomfortable. The Giants need risk it all by playing aggressive man coverage across the board, JAM THE RECEIVERS AT THE LINE, and hope the talented defensive line does its job. I pray Perry Fewell does not take the conservative approach and play that soft zone against Eagles. But can a guy like Aaron Ross or Michael Coe stay with Jeremy Maclin in bump man coverage? Also, playing a lot of man also exposes you to big gains if Vick breaks contain and runs the football. So you have to really pick your poison. Truth be told, the Giants will do what they normally do a mix it up with zone and man. But I hope they play it more aggressively this week.
Giants on Special Teams: DeSean Jackson is the punt returner and that’s all I need to say to get your attention. Obviously this is a big game for Steve Weatherford and the punt coverage unit. The big question for the Giants now is who will return punts with Hixon out? Jerrel Jernigan has ball security issues during preseason and this isn’t the type of game I would put him back in that role again. (Late Note: Tom Coughlin said Aaron Ross will return punts).
The Giants and Devin Thomas haven’t been able to break a big kickoff return since the preseason. Hopefully that changes for this game. The Giants also need a big game out of Lawrence Tynes.