In all of Monday's gnashing of teeth over the back-to-back losses suffered by our New York Giants I think 'Hootman' may have asked the question that is the one we should be spending most of our time debating. And that the Giants players and coaches should, quite honestly, be asking themselves.
"Have the Giants lost their identity?"
It is a valid question, and one to which I think the answer -- at least to some degree -- is yes. To be honest, I think this issue had begun to surface even before the losses. What type of team, exactly, are the Giants trying to be? Right now, I can't tell you. I can tell you this, though. Great teams have a signature, a style. A 'this is what we do and you can't do anything about it' attitude.
The Giants don't have that. In the very recent past, like last season, they HAVE had it. Not right now, however.
Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News summarized it this way.
I don’t know what the Giants are supposed to be anymore. And I’m not sure they know either.
Are they a power running team? A passing team? A team led by a blitzing defense? What’s their true identity? And why does it seem to change week to week?
For now, let's talk about offense. We have spent lots of time -- particularly last week -- talking about the Giants defense. Most of Sunday night's issues were offensive, however.
So, have the Giants lost their identity on offense? By reputation, they are a power-running football team that uses Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw and a terrific offensive line to dominate the time of possession and wear down opposing defenses.
In 2008 the Giants led the league in rushing by averagin g 157.4 yards per game (5 yards per carry). Both Jacobs and Derrick Ward surpassed 1,000 yards. This season the Giants are fifth in the league with 141.9 yards per game, and 4.4 per carry. Still good, but not the same.
The numbers also say that -- for the season -- the Giants are actually running the ball more often than they did in 2008. An average of 32.1 rushing attempts this season, vs. 31.4 last season.
We know, though, that the past two weeks the Giants have gotten away from what they do best.
- A paltry 19 running plays (just seven for Jacobs) in the loss to New Orleans.
- Just 26 running plays against Arizona, 13 for Jacobs.
Coach Tom Coughlin knows it, too.
"We had 26 runs. We were not playing from behind. I would like to have had more. You are always thinking 30-35 runs to be truly balanced. To be honest with you, you have to realize in the middle of the game, there was eight in the box most of the time and seven in the box when we were three wide. So the initial look for the quarterback is that the run gaps were filled. You would like to be 50/50, it just didn’t work out," Coughlin said.
What about all those deep shots down the field, instead of run plays or short passes designed to maintain possession? Coughlin defended some of those plays, but even he was critical of the much-discussed long ball to Mario Manningham on a 3rd and two situation.
"He (Manning) did have a higher percentage type of play. If you go back to the second and two, it was a run call. It is because of what he saw that he went to the alert, the alert was a pass and it was tipped," Coughlin said. "Yes, no doubt, make the first down, please make the first down and then we will think about the next three calls. Another night, you get that matchup, he sticks it in there, it is a touchdown and everybody is happy. Last night, not the way it goes."
Coughlin said the wide receivers simply have to start winning some of the one-on-one battles.
"You would like to be able to take advantage of whatever the opponent does. If he is going to play people down like that and he is going to be one-on-one, then you have to win the one-on-one battles on the outside. We took a shot at the deep post ball, it didn’t turn out in our favor, but it was one-on-one, and I think at the very least we could have knocked that ball down and they wouldn’t have gotten it," Coughlin said. "You get a bunch of really good plays (by the receivers) and then there is a bad play. The bad play unfortunately the last two weeks has shown up as big as you can get. It is an unfortunate drop because that is a touchdown. Now it is a field goal game. Now maybe Bradshaw is at the forty-yard line. It just goes to show you how important every snap is and how you can’t give a snap away. You cannot give one away, on either side of the ball."
Coughlin is right about the receiver issues. The Giants have to be able to win in single coverage, and right now they are not doing it often enough. He is also right that they need to get back to running the ball, particularly using Jacobs more. There is no excuse for him to have just 20 carries the past two weeks, especially when he was running the ball well.
This comes back to the thing I talked about last week in reference to the Giants defense. Right now -- whether it is on Kevin Gilbride, Manning or both -- the Giants are allowing defenses to dictate the style of play.
That needs to change.