By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com
Approach to the Game:
Regret of neglected opportunity is the worst hell that a living soul can inhabit.
- Rafael Sabatini
The Giants blew a tremendous opportunity against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night. Instead of leading the division and possibly causing their arch-rival to begin a tailspin, they once again have made things difficult for themselves while at the same time reinvigorating their competition. But I don’t dwell on the Eagles beating the Giants eight-of-nine times. If that’s the price of two NFL Championships, I will gladly accept that tradeoff.
But there is a larger structural concern with this team. They never seem to play their best unless their backs are against the wall. That’s true within specific games (i.e., all the late-game heroics) and within seasons (the Giants barely made the playoffs in 2007 and 2011). Such a mindset is dangerous because the margin for error becomes very, very small. 2011 never happens if Tony Romo doesn’t miss Miles Austin, or if just one of Eli Manning’s dramatic comebacks falls short.
In three of the Giants’ four games this year, the Giants have played with fire and gotten burned late twice. Unfortunately, two of those games were the most important they have played this year (division games). We have become so accustomed to late-game heroics from Manning that we are shocked when they don’t happen. While it’s a tremendous asset to have the best come-from-behind quarterback in football, that shouldn’t mean that every game should be a come-from-behind affair. The Giants are better than this.
It’s not time to panic yet. And the Giants players are not panicking. But there sometimes seems to be too much of lack of urgency with this team about losses. And it would be damn, damn shame if they are sitting at home when the playoffs start because this team has the roster to win another title. But it can’t do so unless it starts playing like Champions in the regular season and begin stringing wins together.
Hopefully, regret is not the overriding emotion prevailing in the Meadowlands come January 2013.
Giants on Offense: As feared, against a quality defense, the Giants could not run the ball. 19 rushes for 57 yards isn’t going to get it done. And the Giants’ offensive line is now a bit beat up inside at center and right guard. Don’t underestimate the Cleveland Brown’s defense. While statistically (25th) they appear weak, the defensive side of the football has kept the Browns in some close games, including against two very good offenses in the Ravens and Eagles. Just as importantly, the Browns have a very experienced veteran coaching staff that is quite familiar with Tom Coughlin and the Giants – Defensive Coordinator Dick Jauron and Senior Defensive Assistant Ray Rhodes.
The big question for the Giants running game is Ahmad Bradshaw done? If so, the Giants would be well-advised to give more snaps to Andre Brown and David Wilson. Another key question is should the Giants keep the offensive line the way it is now, or should David Diehl get his job back?
The weakness of the Browns is their secondary, especially with CB Joe Hayden still being under suspension. The Browns are a young team and winless. Don’t give them hope. The Giants should come out throwing and get a lead, just like they did against the Panthers. While Andre Brown ran well against Carolina, the Giants passed early and often in that game en route to a 17-0 advantage. The Giants may be without Hakeem Nicks (knee/foot) and Ramses Barden (concussion), but they still have dangerous receivers in Victor Cruz, Domenik Hixon, Rueben Randle, and Jerrel Jernigan. And don’t forget Martellus Bennett.
Giants on Defense: This unit has to start playing better. The defensive lapses, particularly at the end of the second and fourth quarters are particularly worrisome. Make a stand! Win the freaking game! The pieces are there.
Against both the Cowboys and Eagles, the Giants’ defense seemed to get tired. Poor babies! Suck it up! Great defenses rise to the occasion, not give up 172 second-half rushing yards. Want to rush the passer? Get the opposing team in 3rd and long!
This game is going to be a challenge for the Giants’ defense. While Cleveland has a rookie quarterback who has looked terrible at times, and they have receivers who drop too many balls, the team can run the football with power and has some dangerous outside speed.
The big worry is rookie HB Trent Richardson. The guy is a load. And with DT Rocky Bernard (hip) ailing and DT Chris Canty still out, if I’m Offensive Coordinator Brad Childress, I run, run, run against the Giants defense. This rushing attack is different than that of the Eagles and Panthers, where the Giants had to worry about misdirection and cutbacks and outside speed. They will see old fashioned power running this weekend. Pray Rocky Bernard plays and is effective. And reserves Markus Kuhn and Marvin Austin have to step it up. This is a game where Mathias Kiwanuka could have a big impact against the run. Outside at defensive end, are we seeing inevitable decline of Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, or is this just a prolonged slump? Neither is helping their future contact situations.
The Browns are young at receiver and drop a lot of passes, but they are very athletic and fast. Rookie reserve WR Travis Benjamin may be the fastest player in the NFL. But he’s been dealing with a hamstring injury as has starter WR Mohamed Massaquoi. The other starter, Greg Little, is very inconsistent but dangerous. The Browns like to throw the ball underneath as Richardson, RB Chris Ogbonnaya, and TE Benjamin Watson are leading receivers on the team.
Rookie QB Brandon Weedon bird dogs like a lot of rookies. If the Giants get good heat on him, the defensive backs will be able to jump some routes and come away with interceptions. A key guy on the spot will be reserve safety Stevie Brown, filling in for the injured Kenny Phillips. Will Hill might have to play a bigger role this weekend. Are we seeing the inevitable decline in Corey Webster?
Giants on Specials: Much depends on if Joshua Cribbs (concussion) plays. Cribbs is an extremely dangerous returner. But don’t sleep on Travis Benjamin either. The good news for the Giants is they currently have the #1 punt coverage unit in the NFL, allowing only 3.1 yards per return.
As I mentioned last week, it’s only a matter of time before David Wilson and Rueben Randle break one. It’s coming. Will Hill is also getting close to blocking a punt.