Back on October 13, I wrote a post titled, "In Perry Fewell's Defense," double meaning intended. In it I reviewed the whole history of lost for the season injuries to the team, including IR and waived/injured, and tried to place the defense's struggles in context as people were calling for his head. The injuries list did not even take a full ineventory of players lost for more than one game to injury but not for the season. I'll repost that updated list below the fold, but right now, let me present the other side from my point of view.
Here's my beef with Perry Fewell, admitting I'm just an amateur and a fan, in spite of the injury hand he's been dealt. Follow me after the jump.Ok, so here's a quick quote and takeaway from my previous fanpost about all the injuries:
Conclusion: So, like I said, maybe his scheme is not the best. I myself have no real way of knowing. But the offensive plan in place right now was not the plan going into the season. The Giants adjusted back to the three safety set in response to the decimation of the CB corps. We're already seeing Plan B. And Plan B, as an imperfect option, is so far limiting the team's exposure to the big pass plays that killed the team last year, which the higher ups dinged Fewell for in public during the off season. The defense is hurting now against the run and against passes over the medium middle.
But when you look at all those injuries all together, how many there are, who they are, and at what positions, is that really any kind of surprise? Especially when you're relying on rookies who did not have the full off season to learn due to the lockout?
And here's the updated list of players lost for the season, at any point of the preseason and schedule, be it IR or waived/injured, with defensive layers in bold:
- Martell Mallett, RB
- Martin Parker, DT
- Bruce Johnson, CB
- Woody Turenne, CB
- Brian Witherspoon, CB
- Terrell Thomas, CB
- Duke Calhoun, WR
- Clint Sintim, OLB
- Marvin Austin, DT
- Sam Giguere, WR
- Sage Rosenfels, QB
- Brian Jackson, S
- Jonathan Goff, MLB
- Domenik Hixon, WR
- Justin Tryon, CB
- Michael Coe, CB
- Michael Clayton, WR
- Will Beatty, LT
- Stacey Andrews, OT
And here's an off the top of my head list of defensive players who have missed more than one game and been hampered by injuries (this doesn't include Jimmy Kennedy DT suspension). I'm probably missing something here:
Okay, so it's a long list of defensive talent, hitting all levels of the defense, especially the secondary, but also options 1 and 2 for organizing the defense at the huddle (Goff, and for some games Boley). That's a big deal and it kills the ability to establish continuity and consistency of execution. If anything, non-superstars need more coaching and continuity to get successful and familiar within a scheme, whereas higher talent can be successful in many cases in spite of scheme, especially when you're talking about veterans.
Ok, so that's a list of potential excuses for Fewell. But here are my remaining problems, even understanding the tough hand he has been dealt:
Read and React:
His defensive philosophy requires the players to watch and read the QB and adjust on the fly, in unison, in a split second, as a unit. Two problems here. First, it's not a defensive philosophy than can easily withstand injuries because it relies on everyone being coached to see the same thing at the same time on the fly. That never happens in the NFL. Plus, the better QB's understand how to exploit these read and react schemes to look off or fake the defense with a twitch of the shoulder to create space (Rodgers, Brady, Brees, even Romo). That means getting torched for big plays in the air by the playoff caliber teams you need to beat to win da Superblow, though you can feed off of less experienced QB's with this approach. I would argue that the blown assignments we are seeing even among veterans (Webster, Rolle) in this system show that it's not all about injuries and continuity, but philosophy and system.
Kenny Phillips (when healthy) has been playing all year in deep zone to protect against the big play, sacrificing the medium middle, all season. When he entered the league, Phillips was exciting with his aggression and hitting, but he's turned into a passive player in this system, and unexceptional though adequate. Lots of BBV readers push for more blitzes and kill PF for the occasional 3 man rush with extra coverage, but I actually don't mind that as an occasional change up working off a base of a 4 man rush, with some other blitzes mixed in.
Why? Because other than Webster and maybe Boley, we have no one at the second or third levels of the defense who is reliable in man coverage. Aaron Ross is toast even when he tries to press. We miss TT a whole lot here. BBV readers howl for more blitzes, but I just don't think we have the security at the second and third levels of the defense to blitz a lot and rely on man coverage. Look at what Eli Manning did to Rob Ryan's blitzes: he barbequed Dallas. Better QB's like Eli can and will do that with a heavy blitz gameplan.
The real issue for me is more about passivity and lack of aggression overall. Fewell has these guys thinking and reacting to the pace rather than setting the pace of the play, and that's about what's in their heads. What people like about Rolle and his big mouth is he is willing to be brash and aggressive, and there's real value in that, as long as you can balance that with enough control and smart play. I think there's a case to make that the balance of brash and aggressive versus controlled and risk smart has been too conservative, and I think that's a feature, not a bug, of the Fewell approach.
The result? Rumblings about players saying they've been out game planned after the New Orleans fiasco, and even Rolle getting on the radio to throw his teammate Webster under the bus over the Dez Bryant blown coverage. Rolle shouldn't do that, but the finger pointing starts and goes public when there's a loss of control from leadership in clubhouse.
This is related to the point above, but if even the veterans on the team keep blowing assignments, at some point you have to question the coaching/teaching and the complexity of the system itself. We know Fewell preaches a modified Cover-2 or Tampa-2 base with stunts and zone coverage designed to force turnovers and give up yards and FG's but not bigger points and TD's - classic bend but don't break. It is built on deception, which you need in the NFL, but when you're playing a host of rookies at LB and even your veterans with two years in the system are blowing assignments and obviously on different pages at week 14 of a season, you have to wonder if he's adjusting his approach well enough to make the players successful.
We see players over thinking and making mistakes out there. Is that a reflection of PF over thinking the approach and making it too complex for weekly wear and tear? I can't be 100% certain, and the injury argument plays here. but no roster stays intact across 16 games. I think the system requires too much of the players. If you want deception, do it with the play calling and mix of looks, but once the snap comes, let these guys just play rather than do too much thinking. Not everyone has a big time Wonderlic score.
Injuries are a real part of the story for this defense. It's not just a total BS excuse. Look at those lists again above. That said, I have problems wit PF's philosophy and system, and I think we have enough evidence at this point to make some judgments here. No matter what the Giants end up with this season, playoffs or not, I think Mara and Reese have to take a long, hard look at other options for DC. And who knows, since they really accommodated him to interview for a head coaching job this off season, maybe they already know it.