Dec 012004
 
Philadelphia Eagles 27 – New York Giants 6

Game Overview: Everyone needs to calm down and look at the big picture. For the second time this season, the Giants were soundly beaten by the best team in the NFC. That was to be expected. The Eagles have better and/or more experienced players. The Eagles have had the same coaching staff and quarterback for six years. Their players are comfortable with their offensive and defensive systems. The Giants had a rookie quarterback starting his second game, three 1st- or 2nd-year starters on the offensive line, and a patch-work defensive unit on the field. Just as importantly, there are brand new offensive and defensive schemes in place. I continue to be amazed by the thought processes of some who believe the NFL is a video game where you can simply insert a new character and expect to play at a high-level of performance. It doesn’t work that way folks…except in rare circumstances.

I know…you don’t want to hear it. Just more excuses. But I’m going to tell you the truth. Unless you are blessed with excellent talent to start with, it takes time to build a program. This has officially become a rebuilding year. The Giants may sneak into the playoffs because the NFC is so poor, but this is NOT a playoff-caliber team capable of beating the best teams in the AFC. How bad is the NFC? Atlanta barely squeaked by the Giants and the Giants beat the Vikings and Packers. The other division leader is the chronically underachieving Seahawks. But none of these teams, including the Giants, are in the same league as the Patriots and Steelers.

What am I saying? The Giants are coming to the end of their cyclical talent upswing that resulted in playoff appearances in 1997, 2000, and 2002. They blew it during those seasons. The Michael Strahan-Jessie Armstead-Keith Hamilton-Jason Sehorn-Amani Toomer-Ike Hilliard-Kerry Collins-Tiki Barber era is ending. Some of these players may hang on for a few more years, but the team is reloading.

That does not mean all hope is lost. The odds are that Eli Manning is going to be an outstanding quarterback. He will be better next year than he is now; he will be much better in 2006 than he will be in 2005; and he could be outstanding by 2007. That does not mean the Giants won’t win in 2005-2006, but it is an absolute truth that he will be a far superior quarterback with more playing experience. The same is true for the other building blocks on offense: RT David Diehl, RG Chris Snee, and WR Jamaar Taylor. Yes, I firmly believe these three are building blocks. TE Jeremy Shockey and perhaps TE Visanthe Shiancoe are part of the long-term picture as well. Future performance/salary cap considerations will determine how long LT Luke Petitgout, LG Jason Whittle, OC Shaun O’Hara, and HB Tiki Barber are here. The Giants need to add more talent at wide receiver, quality depth/future starter at halfback, and possibly additional starters on the offensive line over the course of the next couple of years. I could see the Giants adding possibly another player to the offensive line, but contrary to popular opinion, I don’t foresee a major overhaul there.

I actually think most of this team’s needs are defensive and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Giants move more and more towards a 3-4 style of defense. There is some talent to build around, including CB Will Peterson, CB Will Allen (if re-signed), SS Gibril Wilson, LB Reggie Torbor, DE Osi Umenyiora, and DT Fred Robbins, but the Giants need better talent, speed, and leadership in quite a few spots here. It won’t all happen in the 2005 offseason. This is a program under evolution. Like the offense, the defense is being rebuilt.

Just keep this in mind – despite all of the youth, talent, and injury issues on Sunday, the Giants were in a dogfight with the Eagles for two quarters. The game pretty much turned on the punt block. The Giants will get better with experience, they will get better when future talent is added in 2005 and 2006, and they will get better when their players are comfortable in the current offensive and defensive systems. The Giants have some of the hard parts covered – the franchise quarterback, most of the secondary, and the tight end. It’s a work in progress. The Giants are not going to contend in 2004 folks…and they are not likely to contend in 2005 either.

Offense: Same old problems…inconsistent pass protection, can’t score in the red zone, can’t score period. In the last three games, the Giants have scored a total of 30 points – that’s averaging 10 per game. The Giants have been shut out for an entire half in each of the last three games. How bad was it against the Eagles?

  • The Giants picked up a total of 12 first downs in the game.
  • The Giants completed only 6 passes in the game. In other words, they completed one more pass than sacks allowed (five).
  • The Giants had 111 net passing yards.
  • The starting wide receivers combined for one catch for six yards.
  • The Giants penetrated the Eagles’ 20-yard line three times (and the 5-yard twice) in the first half and came away with a cumulative total of six points.
  • After two starts, Eli Manning has a lower QB rating in 2004 than punter Jeff Feagles.

The big problems on offense on Sunday were (1) the offensive line (particularly Chris Snee and Wayne Lucier) got its ass kicked in pass protection, (2) Eli Manning did not play well, and (3) the play-calling seemed a bit strange in there didn’t seem to be any safety valves for Manning in anticipation of breakdowns in pass protection.

Offensive Line: As a unit, the offensive line did not play well in pass protection. There were some solid individual performances (LT Luke Petitgout), but the bad game played by OC Wayne Lucier and RG Chris Snee overshadowed that. David Diehl showed continued promise. The Giants helped him out at times by keeping Shockey alongside against DE Jevon Kearse, but there were also times when Diehl was left all alone with Kearse and kept him at bay.

Let’s get a few things straight right now:

  • Many fans (including on this site) and most in the local NY/NJ media knew the offensive line was going to be a problem this year because, aside from Petitgout, the entire offensive line was being revamped. The unfortunate season-ending injuries to Barry Stokes, Rich Seubert, and Ed Ellis didn’t help matters. You have a rookie playing right guard (who is getting a lot of positive recognition around the league, but who is also struggling in pass protection), a converted guard playing tackle (he’s getting better, but he is also struggling in pass protection at times), and injuries have kept OC Shaun O’Hara out of the line-up and have forced Wayne Lucier to start (and Lucier is struggling in pass protection). In other words, the three young guys are having issues in pass protection, particularly with blitzes and stunts. Why is this a surprise? Diehl, Snee, and Lucier are still learning the pro game. They are still learning pro technique with their hands and feet. The game is still too fast for them because they don’t have the experience. Those who say they should be benched are missing the point. The only way they are going to get better is by playing.
  • This line is doing a pretty decent job of run blocking despite all its youth and lack of cohesion. It drives me nuts when I see posts that say Tiki Barber is averaging over 100 yards a game on the ground all by himself…that the blocking has nothing to do with it. These people are not looking at the game, but merely trying to reconstruct reality to fit their own point of view. This may not be a smash mouth line (how many smash mouth lines are there in the NFL anymore?), but they create running room for Barber to do his damage. Giant cutback runs are usually designed plays, not Barber improvising.
  • Luke Petitgout is playing better in pass protection even though the competition has improved in recent weeks. He either has gotten his head out of his butt or he starting to overcome some undisclosed injury (or past injury). If many of his earlier problems are attributable to an injury and the Giants feel his long-term health will be solid, then I continue to see him being a fixture on the offensive line at either left or right tackle. But good left tackles usually don’t become available in free agency and you certainly don’t want a rookie draft pick starting at left tackle. (Also keep in mind that real good left tackles go in the first round and the Giants don’t have a #1 pick).

Now, let’s talk about the Philadelphia game. Football is a simple game in this respect – if you lose the battle at the line of scrimmage, you almost always are going to lose the football game. And the Giants lost the battle at the line of scrimmage on offense against the Eagles – not so much in terms of the ground game (after all the Giants ran for 161 yards against the Eagles), but the team simply could not deal with Philadelphia pass pressure up the middle. The two guys who really struggled were Snee and Lucier. Both continue to have problems mentally recognizing blitzes and stunts (as does David Diehl at times) and both were also physically beaten by quickness or poor technique. Honestly, I just don’t know if Lucier has the feet to ever be a good pass blocker. I think Snee does, but he really gets confused by stunts at times and this sometimes makes Diehl look bad too. For example, if the Eagles stunted their right end and right tackle, Snee should pick up the end and let Diehl stay with the tackle. However, too often, Snee is staying with the tackle and thereby putting Diehl in a chase position with the end (an almost impossible assignment). Once the pro game slows down for Snee and he recognizes what the opposition is doing, this won’t be a problem, but it is right now. The Eagles also ran some interesting schemes to confuse the line too. For example, on one play, the Eagles put a linebacker right over Lucier’s head, forcing him to immediately engage the linebacker. Meanwhile, the Eagles stunted both their defensive tackles behind the linebacker. This confused the heck out of both guards.

The Giants allowed five sacks to the Eagles on Sunday, with four of these coming in the first half. Of these four, one was a coverage sack, one occurred when the ball slipped out of Manning’s hand, one was a failed blitz pick-up by Tiki Barber (Troy Aikman said LT Luke Petitgout should have picked up the blitzer, but he was already engaged with the defensive end; Tiki should have picked up the linebacker in my opinion), and one was a shared sack given up by Snee and Diehl. There were a few pressures in the first half too…Lucier gave up a pressure on Manning’s 15-yard scramble for a first down, Snee gave up a pressure that forced a bad throw by Manning, Snee and/or Diehl failed to pick up a stunting defensive tackle that forced a throw away, Lucier got pushed back on Manning’s 26-yard completion to Shockey (but the OL and backs did a great job of picking up an all-out blitz on this play), and Snee and Lucier gave up a pressure on Manning’s 52-yard bomb to WR Jamaar Taylor. As you can see, the breakdowns came from the young guys; Whittle and Petitgout were very solid in pass protection in the first half (though Petitgout did have one holding penalty that was declined on an aborted screen pass).

I actually thought the second half was the bigger mess even though the Giants only gave up one sack. Lucier missed his block on Tiki’s first carry that lost one yard. Then on the play where Manning threw the ball up for grabs and was picked off, there was a jail break all along the line except for Petitgout. On the Giants’ second possession, the Eagles blitzed their free safety from the weakside and there were more rushers than blockers – Manning was forced to throw the ball away. Then came the play that I mentioned above where the tackles stunted behind the linebacker – Whittle’s man got to Manning first for the last sack of the game. On the next play, the punt block occurs, breaking the game open for the Eagles. On the third possession of the second half, Diehl got overpowered by Kearse on a Barber run to the right; then Kearse overpowered Snee to deflect a pass on third down. Punt. Snee really struggled on the next drive. He gave up three pressures, as did Lucier, who played left guard in the shotgun. Lucier and Whittle failed to pick up a stunt on the final possession.

Diehl was flagged with two false starts and that obviously is not good (though I felt that Kearse should have been flagged on one of these as it is now against the rules to simulate the start of a play by the defense).

Quarterbacks: Last week, Manning got no help from his receivers; this week, he did not receive much help from his offensive line. But it doesn’t get much worse than 6-of-21 for 148 yards, 0 touchdowns, and two interceptions. The highlights of Manning’s play where his two deep passes to Jamaar Taylor, totaling 102 yards. These were absolutely perfect passes, thrown on a dime deep down field. This is an important development in the Giants’ passing game as it now serves notice that the new Giants’ quarterback can and will throw deep. This will eventually open up the running game and the underneath routes.

However, for the second week in a row, Manning threw two bad interceptions. The first was a badly underthrown fade pass to Shockey in the endzone on 1st-and-goal from the 3-yard line. The second was a ball thrown up for grabs along the left sideline as Manning was immediately pressured up the middle…a dumb, dumb rookie mistake. The key word there is ROOKIE. Anyone not expecting serious growing pains has not watched football very long or has some sort of intelligence disorder. That does not mean Eli is free of criticism. He is not…he played a bad game and he would be the first to tell you that. But recognize and appreciate the work in progress folks. And get some realistic expectations.

One area where Manning needs to grow is to develop a better rapport with his receivers on shorter routes and in the red zone. His passes to the backs have not been accurate in both games. He also gave up a sack by embarrassingly letting the ball slip out of his hands while in the throwing motion.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey did a good job with his run and pass blocking this week. He caught one pass for 26 yards. However, he did fumble the ball after another shorter reception (Marcellus Rivers fortunately recovered). Rivers did an OK job in pass protection, although he struggled with Kearse on one play where Manning couldn’t step up into the pocket because the tackles were pressuring inside too.

Wide Receivers: Jamaar Taylor caught two deep bombs for a total of a 102 yards. He is a big, physical receiver with good hands and speed…he has a bright future in the NFL if he can stay healthy. However, he did drop a key pass on 4th-and-7 that was thrown slightly behind him late in the game.

Ike Hilliard was shut out; Amani Toomer caught one pass for six yards. I saw both miss blocks that could have contributed to bigger plays. There are whispers that Toomer has been playing hurt much of the season and that this is affecting his performance.

Running Backs: Tiki Barber keeps plugging along (19 carries for 110 yards; a 5.8 yards-per-carry average) despite being banged up this week with a severe laceration to one leg and another injury to the other leg. Except for the aforementioned sack, I thought Barber and FB Jim Finn did well in their blitz pick-ups.

Defense: Given all of the injuries, the Giants’ defense is playing admirably. However, let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that the defense is mostly sound. Have we come so low as Giants’ fans that giving up 390 yards of total offense and allowing 27 points (including giving up 82- and 53-yard touchdown drives) is deemed “good defense”? You want to watch good defense, watch the Ravens and Patriots. Or better yet, pull out old tapes of the Giants when they won Super Bowls. Good defenses dictate, they create turnovers, they give their offense outstanding field position, and they score.

QB Donovan McNabb handed the Giants their only turnover. The Giants are 0-6 when they don’t win the turnover battle. Contrary to popular opinion, I still believe most of the personnel needs on this team are defensive and not offensive. Defensive Coordinator Tim Lewis is doing it with smoke and mirrors. The Giants need more talent, speed, and leadership on the defense.

Defensive Line: Losing Chuck Wiley to an ACL tear was tough because he was playing well for the Giants.

The defensive line played OK, not great. The Eagles rushed for 152 yards and the defensive line did not exert much of a pass rush. There times when DT Lance Legree (7 tackles) impressively penetrated or held his ground to disrupt runs and there were times when he got effectively blocked on the strongside. Legree also missed a tackle on HB Dorsey Levens on a 4-yard run that moved the ball to the Giants’ 1-yard line. Osi Umenyiora (6 tackles, 1 fumble recovery) disrupted some runs, but there was one play where the running back stiffed armed him all the way for a first down. Umenyiora got some heat on McNabb, but he also lost contain on a couple of these rushes. Osi did recover McNabb’s fumble.

I didn’t think Fred Robbins (2 tackles) played very well this week other than doing a great job of disrupting a screen pass. He was too easily blocked on a few inside runs. Robbins did get a good inside pressure on the 50-yard bomb to WR Todd Pinkston. Norman Hand (1 tackle) actually got a couple of good pass rushes before forced to leave the game with a groin injury. His run defense was a bit up and down too. Kenderick Allen (4 tackles, 1 sack) played quite a bit and impressed at times. The Giants may have found something there. William Joseph (3 tackles) played better this week (that’s not saying much) but still looks lost on some running plays. He’s got good initial quickness, but he appears to have problems locating the football. He got one good pass rush on the play where he got his helmet ripped off, but too often he gets stalemated at the line of scrimmage.

My biggest pet peeve in this game with the officials was they missed two separate personal foul penalties on the Eagles’ right guard when he ripped off the helmets of Joseph and Robbins by grabbing their respective facemasks. The first of these obvious non-calls came on a 3rd-and-5 play right before the Eagles scored their second touchdown of the game. How in the world do the officials miss seeing the helmets ripped off players right in front of them???

Linebackers: Like the line, decent but not great. Coverage on the tight ends and backs was much better than run defense. Barrett Green (9 tackles) was very active and his speed is a definite asset in the lineup. However, he does get pushed around against the run when he can’t out-quick the blocker. There was one play where he just got rag-dolled on a 12-yard gain. But when he is able to penetrate, he can disrupt a running play. His speed is an asset when blitzing too.

Carlos Emmons (8 tackles) was active too, but there were too many successful runs to the strongside where he gave up the corner to HB Brian Westbrook.

After playing well last week, I thought Kevin Lewis (5 tackles) regressed this week. He got effectively blocked on quite a few runs. Lewis also couldn’t stay with TE L.J. Shelton on a perfectly-thrown 20-yard pass. I also think Lewis screwed up on 18-yard completion to the fullback on 3rd-and-1 on the last Eagle scoring drive. And Lewis misplayed the 34-yard screen pass that resulted in a touchdown by attempting to leap over a blocker.

Defensive Backs: The secondary played pretty well. Of note is the fact that CB Curtis Deloatch is coming along so well that the Giants felt comfortable enough to leave him alone with WR Terrell Owens at times and Deloatch did a great job on him, including defending one shot into the end zone.

The Giants did a good job on Owens, shutting him out in the first half and limiting him 4 catches and 62 yards (no touchdowns). Will Allen, Will Peterson, and Deloatch all spent time covering him, with Allen probably being locked up on him most of the time.

Will Allen got “beat” on the 50-yarder to Pinkston on the first Eagles’ possession, but this was an incredibly well-thrown ball. Allen was right with Pinkston on the play. He should have turned around for the ball (something that happens with both starting corners too often), but I doubt he could have made a play on the ball. On the next series, I felt Allen was giving Pinkston too much respect by playing too far off on an easy 8-yard completion. Allen (10 tackles, 1 forced fumble) was pretty active against the run, but he got flagged with a stupid personal foul penalty when he threw Westbrook down out of bounds – this play helped to move the Eagles into field goal position on the first drive of the second half. Later on this drive, he got beat by Owens for the first time over the middle on a 24-yard gain. Of course, a real killer was the dropped interception. Allen did a great job of reading McNabb and jumping in front of Pinkston and should have come up with the pick. Two plays later, the Eagles kick a field goal.

Will Peterson shut out his opponent this week except for one play where Owens caught a 21-yard pass on him, setting up the final Eagle touchdown. Peterson covered the play perfectly, but the ball was thrown behind Owens who was able to stop quicker and make a good adjustment on the ball.

Brent Alexander (3 tackles) made a nice play in run defense on 2nd-and-3 from the 5-yard line, but on the very next play, he bit badly on the play-action fake where McNabb booted to his side and scored on the scramble. Alexander also could not make a play on the 20-yarder to L.J. Shelton, but he had good coverage on the play (it was a perfect pass).

Terry Cousin was sound in coverage, but he missed a big tackle on Westbrook’s 34-yard screen pass that resulted in a touchdown.

Special Teams: The real killer play in the game was the blocked punt. Marcellus Rivers barely got in the way of DE Jevon Kearse on the play. This play set up the Eagles’ second to touchdown and turned a 13-6 game into a 20-6 game.

There were too many penalties on special teams again, including a holding penalty on Visanthe Shiancoe and a personal foul face mask penalty on Frank Walker. The penalty on Walker was particularly bad as it gave the Eagles’ good field position to mount their first touchdown drive of the game.

Willie Ponder returned four kickoffs for 24.8 yards-per-return average, the longest being a 33 yarder. Mark Jones returned one kickoff for 17 yards and returned three punts for 16 yards (a 5.3 yards-per-return average). He didn’t receive much blocking, but there was one punt where I felt he should not have called for a fair catch as he had room to operate.

PK Steve Christie’s kickoffs were fielded at 5, 12, and the goal line. Eagle returns went for 27 (Frank Walker), 20 (Curtis Deloatch), and 18 yards (David Tyree). Tyree did a great job again of batting a ball backwards before it hit the endzone.

Aside from the blocked punt, Jeff Feagles averaged 44.2 yards on five punts, including three punts downed inside the 20-yard line. The Eagles had no punt return yardage in the game.


Let A Thousand Theories Bloom

by David Oliver of BigBlueInteractive.com

The Holiday season is a wonderful time to be a New Yorker. The chill in the air, the smell of chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Rockefeller center; oh, yeah, the memories of the Yankee juggernaut collapsing at the feet of and handing a World Series ticket to the Boston Red Sox – the Red Sox, of all teams; the impending sense of the Jets, yes, those J-E-T-S, making the playoffs; and the thoughts of how great the NY Football Giants are going to be NEXT YEAR. An old, tired refrain passed from generation to generation, almost as if the Football Giants have been bequeathed the legacy of those hapless, lovable bums from Brooklyn.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, being a member of the NY sport scene diaspora for so many years, I have been numbed into acceptance, resignation, on the order of cross-country skiing in Yellowstone in January, with a feeling of being 9 miles from base, darkness approaching, my toes welded to the skis, facing only 2 choices- lay down and die out here, or just keep trudging, hit the diamond slope and get back to a change of socks and a couple of stiff brandies. There are days when I love to read The Corner Forum; there are days when I can’t stand it; there are days when I am simply befuddled. Yesterday was one of those days. There have been so many eloquent theories advanced that I am convinced that this team is terrible; no, it is just one or two players away from greatness; the coaching staff is, alternatively, both good and bad; Ron Dayne is the fault of the whole imbroglio; Eli Manning does not walk on water; the offensive line couldn’t go in a yard sale; the wide receivers are terrible, no great, no injured, no everyone is blocking, so no one is catching; the defense is an amazing amalgam of has beens and never weres, led by another deposed genius, and if they just stayed on the field for 58 minutes can win games. Oh, hell, the fact of the matter is that the great majority of NFL teams are in the same boat as the Giants; there are a few better than average teams and then all the rest. Parity was supposed to create excitement; instead, parity in the NFL has just created ennui. Look at NASCAR; the fans had gotten bored with an overly long season; a season in which a driver and team did not have to win very many races, but if they had been consistent could win a Championship. So they split the season into 2; the final 10 races would focus on the highest 10 drivers point totals – only they could win a Championship. Then for good measure, the next highest point total driver could win $1 million dollars. The fun is back. So how do we cure the NFL blues? How about something radical – like sending 10 teams to the CFL, or Europe, or creating a two-tier system like European soccer? Or maybe just eliminating 10 teams? Or modifying Collective Bargaining Agreement to mandate that players drafted on Day 1 be required to sign 5-year contracts with the team that drafted them? Yes, I know, all in the realm of fantasy. But here is the real one – force the NFL to sell the Giants to Donald Trump or George Steinbrenner. Maybe neither one knows a damn thing about football, but both have only one goal – to win. Forget about the good of the League or the health of a franchise in East Wabash – just win baby. That seems to be more in line with our desires, and after all, we pay the bills, don’t we? With an owner who wants to win, the money available to a NY Franchise, and the media and endorsements available to players, the Football Giants, like the Yankees, could go out and buy winners – and the joy would return to mudville.

I am too old to wait for another appearance by God, maybe to Ray Lewis, with a mandate to move to NY and bring a Championship. That worked for Green Bay, but then Green Bay is in one of those blue/red states; NY is firmly in the Blue area and God just doesn’t care about the Football Giants. So I am left with an observation of over 50 years of this team; I have been involved in the business side of the game; I have been both a photographer and a writer for long enough to have formed some definite opinions (not that is necessary by any stretch of the imagination – watching one quarter of one game is enough to confer expertise on a Giants follower); and I would offer some of what I have learned from watching, shooting, interviewing, and just plain feeling, about this team.

First off, any team can win a Championship, in any given year, just as anyone can win a lottery, at any given time. So anything that smacks of negativism can easily be turned around to optimism at the drop of a ball. And, as a lawyer, I am adept at arguing BOTH sides of the case, just like Geragos, who one day calls a case a ‘slam-dunk for the prosecution,’ next day signs on as the defendant’s attorney. And lost the case. Some cases are that bad – you can try, but you will just as certainly lose. So it is with the Giants. You can try to dissect the team, the game, every element of the relationship between the game and the fans, and so forth, and in the end, you will wind up with a case that just may not be winnable.

In any organization, the analysis must start at the top. Good or bad, patrician or proletarian, organizational life is cyclical. In a corporate world, with shared ownership, there is a penumbra of responsibility. If the shareholders are unhappy, someone goes. In the world of modern sports, responsibility is determined along Phaoronic lines – if Pharaoh is unhappy, somebody goes. But no one replaces Pharoah, and if Pharoah is happy, no one is replaced, or a fall guy is chosen, and replaced. In sports, the fall guy is usually the Coach. The Coach gets fired, and within a few months is hired somewhere else, where he ultimately becomes successful, or not. The only conclusion I can reach from this bizarre ritual of blaming the Coach, is that a dog could be hired as Coach, well, as Head Coach, and have the same success or failure as anyone currently coaching in the League today. If dog is lucky, he will win a Championship, then retire. If dog begins to think he is special, he will ultimately have a losing season and be fired.

But, just as in Orwell’s world, although all dogs, and coaches, are equal, some are more equal than others. This is the long way around the tree of saying that Jim Fassel and Dan Reeves were no Vince Lombardi, but then again, neither is Tom Coughlin. Dan Reeves had a nice career in Denver, with a fellow named Elway; he had a really tough time in NY with a fellow named Brown; and he could still be coaching in Atlanta if a fellow named Vick hadn’t been injured last year. Viewed from this perspective, it appears that if Coughlin lasts long enough to see the emergence of Eli Manning, he will go out as a pretty good coach. My preference would be to see him move on, and the Giants hire someone who is fresh and will help Eli Manning emerge; someone like Charlie Weiss. But I am ahead of myself a little. Coughlin was hired long before Fassel was fired. Coach Fantasy Island was replaced by Coach Stalag Meadowlands. Results so far: it was a lot more fun with Coach Fantasy Island. Coach Stalag was NOT brought in to build a team 5 years out – God love him, the owner might not be around another 5 years, and the organization wants nothing more than to present him with another Championship and the feeling that he leaves his Legacy in good hands. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But the decision to change not only Coaches, but styles, has sent this team back to the Dan Reeves interregnum – muddling, mediocre play, covered by a veneer of “we know what we’re doing” and excuses – excuses for everything – the QB was at fault; the offensive line is at fault; the highly paid secondary is at fault; the fans who are critical are at fault; and so forth. For my money, when you step into someone’s shoes, and you are critical of what transpired before you arrived, you had better walk the walk. This record is crawling the crawl, and I notice that there is not a whole lot of braggadocio coming forth these days. So my analysis of fault starts at the top; good intentions, too much make believe ballroom topside. The best years of this franchise were the years in which George Young ruled the roost; whether or not he was sent by Pete Roselle, or just fell into the lap of the organization. This team is in sore need of football people at the top. It needs new blood, plain and simple. I have no problem with the ownership, but this thing, this game, this team is no toy or joke for its fans – read The Corner Forum if you think otherwise. Fans don’t need to be geniuses; it doesn’t matter what they know; but once they commit, if you are a business, you had better deliver a product; if you are entertainment, well, someone ought to leave the venue singing or dancing, or feeling good about something.

Coming down the pyramid of power, the GM must shoulder some blame. Although he has been doing better in drafting talent, his record is abysmal in signing players at their peak to too much for too long, or bidding against himself. The talent assessment hasn’t been bad. Turn on almost any game and there are a couple of ex-Giants playing, many of them judges unworthy to play in NY, many only role players, but playing nonetheless. Forget Tyrone Wheatley and even Kerry Collins; how about guys like Matt Stover, or Ryan Clark or Kelly Herndon, or Joe Jurivicious, or some linemen around the League. Sure every team has lost guys because of free agency, but the Giants seem to lose guys because they don’t know how to use them. Let’s go back to the GM – the first mistake, and the biggest, was not drafting Alan Faneca (and no, I’ll never let that one go). Just as the ankle bone is connected to the shin bone, or whatever, Faneca is connected to Ron Dayne, and Tiki Barber. And Shaun Williams is connected to befuddlement. Then there is the drafting of Jeremy Shockey, who is connected to the hiring of a coaching staff that flat out refuses to use him in a way to showcase his talents. Shock is not a TE, nor is he a wide receiver. He is a hybrid receiver who can penetrate a medium to deep zone and open up both a deep passing game and a running game. Now there is Eli Manning, the future of the New York Giants. We FINALLY have a quarterback who can be an All-Pro, big-game player for a decade. He was a pure GM pick. The coach went out and found a veteran; coach knows he was hired to win now and he knows no rookie was going to take this team to the promised land. Connecting the dots, I have come to the conclusion that the FUTURE is playing now because someone higher up in the organization hinted, or suggested that, having lost 11 of the last 13 home games, or some such silly number, the fannies in the seats were getting restless. The FUTURE might not win many games, but he would keep the fannies firmly planted. It has worked like a charm. Everyone has been distracted for a couple of games; everyone was willing the FUTURE to provide a spark, to lead this great championship bound team to victory. Coach knows in his heart, as will you if you think about it – the only hope of the playoffs lay in the hands of the punchy, wounded veteran. A record of 9-7 would have done it. Everyone could have claimed success, and next year, when coach had the opportunity to jettison the other half of the mediocre team, the FUTURE would be put in place. So, whoever made the decision to play the FUTURE now, made it as a business decision and not a sound football decision. Well, collectively we could write a book, pro and con, on the sins of management. Maybe someday we should. For my money, right now, I can’t help but look backwards. A Coach, who led the team into one SB and playoff appearance, has an injury-riddled year and an implosion on the field. He gets pilloried and fired. A new coach enters the scene, supposedly cleans house, yadda, yadda,yadda, gets hit with the same injury bug, goes nowhere, and receives a plethora of justifying excuses. Comparisons are difficult – but I refuse to compare this year to last year, UNLESS the same excuses are applied to both; rather I would compare this year to two years ago, and the comparison is not pretty – it really appears that with the changing of one assistant coach, last year’s team may very well have been a playoff team this year. This exercise is like one of those eternal mirrors where you can just keep seeing the same things ad infinitum.

Obviously, I don’t like this coaching staff. At least I am consistent. I didn’t like the hiring when it took place; I don’t like it now. One of the biggest failings of management in the past was the jettisoning of Jessie Armistead. What he had lost on the field, Jessie never lost in the locker room. He was the fire, the heart and soul of the team. With the retirement of Hammer Hamilton, the last of the embers went. No one has replaced them, and no one will under the current regime. This is a team with no heart and no soul, and that translates into losses in the second half, losses in close games, losses following losses. Enough said on that score.

On to the team itself. First sacrificial lamb of the season was the QB – it was all his fault; next up the offensive line; it’s all their fault; soon to be blamed, the wide receivers, just a bunch of plough horses. In truth, all share some blame, but none are as bad as we critics presume. Kurt Warner is a winner. He came into a new system. If you watched the Sunday night Denver/Oakland game, the discussion about Kerry Collins was about learning a new system; even veterans struggle in getting it down. Kurt acknowledged he was having difficulty in getting it down. Of course Eli Manning shouldn’t have THAT difficulty as he is learning his first pro system. That is, if there is a system because, frankly, I think the OC has been abysmal. The Giants are not the Patriots, personnel-wise, or coaching-wise. From field level, my observation is that whatever it is the Giants are doing, it is not QB-friendly. It is a bizarre amalgamation of a core set of plays, few of which have worked and few of which have been modified or discarded. I distinctly remember Sean Payton telling me that the entire coaching staff had a hand in designing plays; that after each season, everyone reviewed tapes from other teams, identified what worked that year, and designed a game plan of plays using the current flavor and applying those plays to the playmakers on the team. In fairness, this outfit didn’t have the time to do that; in fairness this is a rookie OC. But this analysis is not about fairness; it is about winning and losing and applying the same set of standards across coaching staffs. It took Coach Belichick time to assemble the players he wanted, and he started with a core of coaches that had been together since their NY Football Giants days. The Patriots have prospered because of this; and the Giants and Cowboys have suffered because of this. These guys belong in NY, not NE.

I am and have been a huge fan of Eli Manning. I am a true believer. He has what it takes and he will get better. I just hope that his fate is more like Peyton than his father. Archie was never provided an appropriate surrounding cast. Notwithstanding this, I do stand with Coughlin on this count as I believe he would have stayed with Kurt Warner. Warner had a couple of bad games, but he was the man to rebound and lead the Giants to the playoffs. I’ll address this more at the end. So, I do not believe that Warner was the fault of the Giants’ losses, by himself, and I dislike scapegoating a very good QB.

The offensive line is a good offensive line which is struggling for a couple of reasons: the bulk of these guys were trained in the McNally system. Their primary function was to protect the QB, which they did very well for a couple of years. Although they are big, and strong, they kept rushers off a not very mobile QB. Now, the philosophy is pound the ball, control the line of scrimmage. The new offensive line coach may be good, or not, but in fairness, he is fighting a far more serious battle in his life and I doubt he has had the time to devote to inculcating his philosophy of run blocking as thoroughly as he might have under other circumstances. Add to that the addition of new players, first and foremost Snee, who is going to be a premier mauler- not Faneca, but better than we have seen on a Giants’ line. But he is a rookie. Not only is he a rookie, but he has a second-year man outside of him, who is playing his position for the first time at the pro level and he has played with a couple of different centers. It is unrealistic to expect more of him than we are seeing. Next, contrary to the popular opinion here at BBI, I have always felt that David Diehl could become a premier guard, not a tackle. He may become an adequate tackle, but he could become a great guard. With Snee, Diehl and Seubert, if he returns, the Giants would have their roadgraders in place. Lucier also has the potential to become a roadgrader; he is big and tough. He just needs time and a consistent line. Whittle gives what he has. He’s a savvy pass blocker and would be, ideally, first off the bench in rotation. Luke has had a couple of good games and a couple of bad games. I don’t believe he is all the way back from his injuries and I believe he may be struggling with his confidence. As a right tackle, I said it when he was there, and I’ll say it now – Luke Pettigout would have been a Pro Bowl player. As a left tackle, pre-injury, he was a better than average protector.

There are many reasons for sub-par play along this line; adjusting to a new system, adjusting to a QB who held the ball longer, adjusting now to a new QB. But even with all that, they are playing no worse than any of the lines on the other 12 teams in similar position, record wise.

Tiki Barber is a great player – like most Giants’ running backs, he will not get proper recognition until he stops playing. He is a bright spot in a dismal swamp. Nothing more needs to be said.

Ron Dayne is an enigma wrapped in a riddle. He is not the second coming of Satan. I have talked to several knowledgeable people around the League who acknowledge he was, and is, a bad fit in the Giants’ offense. He can be a serviceable back in an offense such as Kansas City or Pittsburgh. It is a shame that this mismatch came about, but as it has, how would I try to get some useful productivity from him. Watching him level people on special teams, and believing that he can run in space and catch a ball, I would make him an H-Back, get him on the field with Tiki, use him as both a lead blocker and a pass catcher in the flat. He is a devoted player; very frustrated, and I believe willing to try almost anything to prove he is a player. As a third-down back, or a power runner, his game is not suited to play in the NY offense. Then again, neither was Dorsey Levens, Joe Montgomery, and a host of other backs. Considering that Priest Holmes didn’t fit the Ravens, the Redskins have yet to unleash their Portis power, and Marshall Faulk was sent packing in Indianapolis, I would not write off Dayne just yet.

The receivers have NOT been open. I have read comments in The Corner Forum all season long about the receivers running wild on the field. From field level, and often looking upfield from behind the QB, I have seen very little separation, and what I have seen is corners and safeties sitting on routes. Warner held the ball often and took the hit because he could see the defense. The Giants have not had a receiver in years who could fight for the ball. At one brief time, Amani did, but he doesn’t anymore. I don’t know if he is hurt or just disinterested. I know Jim Fassel worked him over a couple of times and it did get him to focus. This season appears gone. It is time to put in Willie Ponder and David Tyree to go along with Eli. It is time to get more speed out there. In Tyree’s case, he is an improbable receiver, who makes things happen. So go with it. What is on the field now isn’t working. Maybe Ponder is not the answer. Let’s find out. I believe Ponder and Jamaar Taylor will change the defense enough to allow Shockey more room in the zone. Yes, the Shock has dropped some passes, easy passes. That is no reason to stop throwing to him. Feed him enough to get him into the game. Thus far, this is the most anemic Giants’ offense I can remember. Coughlin and his staff have been a major disappointment, and someone should be held accountable.

The defense has been doing amazing things. Defensive Coordinator Tim Lewis and Linebacker Coach Billy Davis are getting the job done. Osi has been coming along and is ready to step up to premier level. William Joseph follows Osi like his shadow, but little of Osi’s fire has rubbed off on him. Both Robbins and Hand have been adequate, at times very good. But they are not Hamilton and Grif. Michael’s injury gives us a glimpse into the future – and its not rosy. For me, among the linebacking corps, Keven Lewis has been a mild surprise, although I am probably one of the few who ever believed he was starting-caliber. Right now, even he is running scared. On a losing team, no one’s job is secure. Emmons and Green have really shown nothing more than I expected, and as a unit, this has not been as stellar as we have been accustomed to from Giants’ linebackers. This year, the safeties have been the revolving door. I don’t know how they are doing it, but they are holding up. The defensive coaching staff deserves kudos. There is not a lot more to say on this side of the ball.

Following the loss to the Lions, I wrote that I would not be surprised to see the Giants’ lose the next three games. I had watched the Bears on TV the week before we played them, and I knew what was coming. Atlanta is solid, with a tough defense, and the Eagles (eech!) are flying high. T.O. was a very nice addition for them. I had some interesting conversations with people from the organizations of the Bears and folks who were in the media with Atlanta. Both teams have spirit, far more than the Giants. Both coaching staffs were involved and interacting with their players. I teasingly asked one of the Bears sideline guys if they would be interested in swapping coaching staffs. He laughed and said, “No, but there is ONE Giant we would be interested in.” I said, yes, Eli was the real deal and was going to be great. He replied, “Yes, we know that.” I also had an interesting conversation with someone covering the Falcons. I was detailing some of the complaints of ‘style’ that had been levied against the Giants HC. He told me that the Falcon staff was exactly the same – that the lid had been sealed, the media was enemy territory. The difference I noticed was that throughout the game, Coach Mora was interacting with his players, and that Detmer was almost attached to his hip, talking to him all the while. These guys had bonded. The Bears, not a great team, and the Falcons, playoff bound, both with new coaching staffs, had a RELATIONSHIP of spirit along the sidelines. You could sense the joie among the players. I believe that it is the new wave of football.

Having said all of that, I also said after the Lions loss, that losing through November, I believed that the Giants had a chance of winning 4 of the last 5 guys. I believe that is possible, more likely 3 wins. It is a matter of match-ups. Notwithstanding that the Redskins have the second best defense, the Giants are at least a 3 point better offense. I believe the Giants will defeat the Redskins and that Eli will have a decent game. Shockey will be prominent. They need to negate the linebackers of the Redskins and Shock and Tiki can do that. Caveat: once again, it comes down to this – IF the Giants defeat the Redskins, they go on to win a couple of more games; if not, they will not win again this year. The Steelers will come into the Meadowlands and keep the Giants’ losing streak at home intact. The Ravens, although tough defensively, can be beaten. Another tough defensive game, with turnovers determining the outcome. The Bengals are like the Giants – they are a belated Christmas present waiting to happen. The Cowboys – what could be better than starting 05 by beating the Cowboys and Saint Bill, and sending him into retirement once again? (Although I dearly love the man – he brought us victory and I overlook the discord following his departure). So there you have it- my .02 cents. Following the second game of the year, I predicted somewhere between 7-9 and 9-7. I hold to that belief, barring a loss to the Skins this week – in which case I will consign myself to another winter of hell.

(Box Score – Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants, November 28, 2004)