If you read my last post you'd know that I said last week was a make or break game for the Giants against Tennessee at home, and they broke. They broke in a big way; however, unlike the Indianapolis game, the Giants didn't fold in the first half. They waited until the third quarter before throwing in the towel and looking forward to next week.
They gave up 29 points and yet they beat Tennessee in almost every other aspect of the game. Just what went wrong and how can we come out victorious this weekend against Chicago?
Our New York Giants came away with 26 first downs and 471 yards of offense (364 passing, 107 rushing). The Titans had a meager 17 first downs and 271 yards of offense (110 through the air, 161 on the ground), yet they came away with a 19 point win. Fewell's defense must have folded like a card table and phoned it in, right?
Well, not really. The Titans were held to 10 points in the first half, which isn't too shabby, but they did give up 17 points in the second half. That's a little less than reasonable. Giving up 27 points per game isn't going to win a whole lot of games; but, I don't blame the defense for every point given up, because there are two glaring deficiencies that absolutely need to be patched.
First and foremost are the special teams. I know we've all been calling for the head of Tom Quinn for years now, but the Giants refuse to try and improve their poor special teams performance. I don't know if they're turning a blind eye to the problem, giving Quinn the benefit of the doubt from their 2007 miracle year, or what, but it really feels like the Giants are ignoring a huge problem in spite of themselves.
While Tynes did manage to hit a 50 yard field goal (and was only wide on a 53 yarder), the rest of the special teams were truly special: a delay of game on a field goal (how in the world does that happen) and the starting field position are huge, gaping problems that need to be corrected ASAP.
On average, the Giants started with the ball (after a kickoff) behind the 20 yard line, while the Titans started with the ball between the 40 and 50 yard lines. The Giants, and some media outlets, continue to blame the poor execution of the players, with Tom Coughlin even suggesting that some veteran players, like Kiwanuka, should play on special teams. The players aren't the problem, and let me explain why:
The Giants rank 18th in opponent's kick return average (23.8 yards) and 25th in opponents' punt return average (12.4 yards). They're also 31st in kick return average (15.9 yards) and 26th in punt return average (5.9 yards).
When you rank this low in special teams it's not just a talent issue. The Giants have a boat-load of talent on the field when they bring special teams out, including Chase Blackburn and Jason Pierre-Paul on coverage, and having Darius Reynaud return. Adding players like Michael Boley and Corey Webster is only going to accomplish one thing: getting them hurt. Why?
The schemes suck. I don't know if you've noticed this, but Tom Quinn is doing some weird things with his special teams schemes, including:
- Stunted blocking. This often happens with Jason Pierre-Paul where he'll start off in one slot and cross over two or three blocking slots and block someone else entirely, forcing several other players to cross over and attempt to block that lane. Sadly, they're not as beastly as Pierre-Paul is and often miss or block the wrong guy.
- Giving up two lanes to block one rusher. This happened a few times during the Tennessee game, where on a kickoff return, the special teams would give up an entire blocking lane to double team one rusher. That's fine when he's a beast and he's doing nothing but single handedly stopping your return game, but when he's some nobody that can easily be taken out of the play you're just letting Darius getting tackled behind the 20.
The other problem with special teams? Matt Dodge would be better off if they didn't try to groom him into the next Jeff Feagles. Look, Feagles was one hell of a great punter and we miss him dearly, but Matt Dodge is not Jeff Feagles. Dodge is a guy who can boom the ball down the field, not m ake it land out of bounds at the 1 yard line. By screwing with his mechanics and forcing him to be a positional punter, you're forcing Dodge to throw away his amazing leg power in favor of sub-par accuracy.
In other words, the Giants special teams would benefit greatly if they got rid of Tom Quinn and hired a High School special teams coach. No, I'm dead serious: in High School the only thing they taught us was that you need to maintain your lane and don't let the guy through. Our kicker was taught to do what he felt was natural. Honestly, if they just maintained their blocking lanes and kept Dodge's mechanics the same, the coverage units wouldn't be so horrible.
Of course, good field position off the special teams isn't the only way the Titans got the better of the Giants defense ... the Giants also turned the ball over 3 times - once on the ground and twice in the air.
Let's get Manning's ugly left-handed interception out of the way: I liked the play. Alright, I didn't like the play, I thought it was stupid and something we haven't seen since 2006 or so. The thing is, Eli was trying to make something happen. Yes, he forced it, yes it was a bad play, and yes it cost us an opportunity to score some points. the ting is, nobody else on this team really looks like they're trying to make something special happen, but Eli is. I'm willing to give him a pass on that one play. It wasn't pretty, but if it had worked out it would've been one hell of a touchdown.
Now, let's talk about the other interception. A lot of pundits outside of the New York metro area are starting to say that Eli has regressed as a Quarterback because of his incredible amount of interceptions this season. I might be a nobody behind a keyboard, but I'm telling you that these guys are idiots. The second interception of the day wasn't Eli's fault.
When Eli manages to get the ball near you - close enough that your hands are able to get around the football in some manner, you, as a professional receiver, have to catch it. That's your job in the NFL. When Eli hits you in the numbers with the pass, you have no excuse when the ball bounces off your chest and into the opponents hands.
This isn't Eli regressing. This is his wide receivers being mentally incapable of watching the ball into their hands and then attempting to make some yards after the catch.
The final turnover, a fumble, was a heart breaker, and it's not the first time Ahmad Bradshaw has driven a steak into the hearts of the New York Giants. Bradshaw fumbled the ball close to the end-zone, killing the drive and destroying any momentum the Giants had. The worst part is that it wasn't a stripped ball - a defenders hand barely grazed the underside of the football and it popped loose.
The Giants are really going to need to look at how Bradshaw holds the ball and consider training him to hold the ball like Tiki Barber did late in his career, because this isn't the first time Bradshaw has dropped the ball on nearly zero contact.
Offensively we killed ourselves in this game. Defensively we did OK. Yeah, the defense gave up 20+ points, but considering the average field position and the amount of time a dejected defense had to spend on the field inside the red zone, I really don't feel right picking on them. Yes, I could criticize the individual effort on pass coverage, especially the long passes that burned us a couple of times, but at the end of the day the defense didn't cost the Giants this game.
Of course, I will pick on the defense in this area: in the fourth quarter the Giants defense gave up. They gave up. That speaks volumes about two people: the coordinator and the defensive captain. Fewell and Tuck.
When your team is down in the fourth quarter - down big - your leaders need to be vocal and get the pride pumping in the rest of the team. Perry Fewell and Justin Tuck failed, miserably, on this front. By the fourth quarter this defense had given up and packed it in; however, next week the Giants defense should be licking its chops.
Oh, don't get me wrong, I have mixed feeling about this weeks game against the Chicago Bears. Lovie Smith's defense is built entirely around takeaways and strips, and the Giants are nothing if not happy to give the ball away. That's really the main reason I'm worried: we could easily give this game away to Chicago if we don't protect the ball; however, I'm excited to see what happens for one reason: Jay Cutler has zero pass protection.
While I won't question the ability of Cutler - he is a serviceable Quarterback - against Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, and even Jason Pierre-Paul, Cutler better run for his life.
The Bears, right now, are playing on borrowed time. They're not a 3-0 team. In fact, they're not a 7 win team. The Bears are horrible, and they've won their first three games simply because the other teams coughed up the ball too much ... it also helps that they've got one hell of a kick returner.
This week, I don't want to see Dodge punt anything near the center of the field. I don't care if he gives us a 10 yard angled punt out of bounds - Devin Hester must not touch the ball, because we can EASILY get burned on special teams ... and that's scary.
On paper the Giants should walk away with this game. The offense is far superior and the defense should have a field day with Jay Cutler; however, on paper, every time we score a point, the Bears have a high probability of getting those points right back on special teams ... yes, we're THAT bad on coverage. There's also the worry that the Giants will continue to attempt to pound the ball on the ground with Ahmad Bradshaw, who is becoming prone to dropping the ball when there's a stiff wind.
So, with a defense that is built around stripping the ball, and a special teams return man that can burn us on each and every kickoff, this is actually shaping up to be a challenging game for the Giants. Can they win it?
Of course they can! They will, too. The defense has pretty much had their pride crushed two weeks in a row now, and the offense is one competent game away from breaking out and utterly dominating an opponent. I happen to think it's this week, against the worst 3-0 opponent in the league, where the Giants start the process of turning things around.
What do you think?