It is so much more pleasant to talk about, and write about, a team that is winning than one that is losing. So, at least for now, things are good around the 2-2 New York Giants. There are, however, always things to think about during the course of a season. Both good and bad. That said, let's dig into this week's "Five things I think I think" about the Giants.
I think we need to talk about play-calling ... again
Tom Coughlin was asked in his post-game press conference Sunday why the Giants had attempted a risky pass that was intercepted near the end of Sunday's game when a running play and a field goal would have given them a 17-point lead. He was asked to explain it again on Monday. It's been hotly debated in the comments here. It's been a subject in the @bigblueview Twitter feed and in the Big Blue View e-mail inbox.
So, we need to talk about why the Giants were throwing the ball on third-and-goal from the Buffalo 8-yard line with less than four minutes to play. It was apparent to anyone who can count and knows a bit about football that at that point the Giants had won the game. A running play and fourth-down field goal there milks the clock down close to three minutes and gives them a 17-point lead. Not a chance in the world the Bills score three times in the final three minutes.
The Giants chose the high-wire, though. They chose to be Nick Walenda -- again -- when they didn't need to be. Coughlin said he wanted to score and that he had instructed McAdoo to be aggressive. Nothing wrong with that -- you win by trying to win. But, you also have to know when you have already won. The Giants didn't recognize that Sunday.
They took an unnecessary risk and it backfired when Manning -- his vision admittedly blocked by Jerry Hughes -- threw the ball when he couldn't clearly see whether or not Rueben Randle was covered. Manning, knowing he didn't have a clear line of sight, should never have thrown the ball -- or should have thrown it 10 yards over Randle's head. No doubt. No argument. They were fortunate Buffalo's Stephon Gilmore didn't run the pick back for a touchdown.
I can't defend the decision to throw in spot at all. I applaud Coughlin telling Ben McAdoo to be aggressive, to try to go down and score. But the Giants had already done enough before Manning let go of the ball.
A little advice, though, for those of you still screaming for the heads of Coughlin and McAdoo over this. Relax, Breathe. Enjoy the fact that the Giants have won two straight. Let's hope the Giants get their end-of-game clock and score management straightened out before it's too late.
I think the Giants need a win vs. the 49ers
Over the first quarter of the season the Giants have gone from the brink of disaster to right in the thick of the race for the NFC East title. Sunday, in a game where they are a heavy favorite against the reeling San Francisco 49ers, is a spot where they absolutely cannot afford to stumble.
This is a must-win for the Giants, just as much as the last two weeks were must-wins. Here is the Giants' schedule for the next five weeks:
It is entirely possible that the Giants won't face a team with a winning record during that stretch, especially with the Cowboys facing the New England Patriots this weekend. Beating the 49ers would set the Giants up for a potentially nice run heading into a Week 10 game against the Patriots. A loss in a game they are expected to win would leave them once again scrambling uphill.
I think I really appreciate Ereck Flowers
Rookie left tackle Ereck Flowers is an old-school type of player who has earned the respect of Coughlin and his teammates. Mine, too.
From Day 1 with the Giants it has been obvious that Flowers is a pro. He understand that what he does is a job, understands he needs to get better at it, and just goes about his business with no fanfare. You might even say the big man has disdain for the media.
Flowers is also a tough customer who could care less about injuries. He played his best game of the season Sunday despite re-injuring his left ankle and missing 10 plays. He faced Buffalo's Jerry Hughes, who has back-to-back double-digit sack seasons on Sunday, while basically playing on one leg. Hughes never got close to Eli Manning.
Flowers has a lot of growing to do as a player, but you win football games with guys who care this much and work this hard.
"I ask him how he's doing and he says "good." He's always good," said Coughlin. "The key thing is, on the first play of the game, he hurt the ankle again. He came out and before you know it, he's back in. I respect the hell out of it."
I think lack of pass rush is still the Giants' Achilles heel
This one is obvious if you have watched the Giants, but still needs to be talked about. The Giants have five sacks in four games, and only the Miami Dolphins (one measly sack) have fewer. The Giants get a sack on only 2.67 percent of drop backs by the opposing quarterback, again with the Dolphins being the only team more ineffective rushing the passer. The Giants don't get pressure unless they scheme it, sending extra people.
Sunday, they sacked Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Taylor twice, both on the Bills' final possession of the game when they had to throw on every play. Otherwise, they pressured Taylor only four other times, according the official stats from NFL GSIS. That means Taylor faced some sort of pressure only 14.2 percent of the time, much of it in the final three minutes. Most of the time, he had all day to locate receivers.
The Giants will continue to try to coax more out of Damontre Moore, who had two pressures in 23 snaps. They will hope that Owa Odighizuwa, who played 47 snaps in his NFL debut, impacts the pass rush. They will pray that Devon Kennard doesn't miss time with a hamstring injury. They will hold out hope that Jason Pierre-Paul can help them in the final few games.
With tremendous run defense, good special teams play and turnover-free offense the Giants can survive against many teams without the big pass rush. Against top-flight quarterbacks, though, the lack of pressure is a killer. Fortunately for the Giants, though, they don't have to face too many of those.
I think players still play for Coughlin
Two season-opening losses didn't sink the Giants' season, as awful as things seemed. Two excellent, much-needed victories don't mean the Giants are playoff-bound, as euphoric as everyone is at the moment. Nothing that has happened so far tells us anything about how the season will go other than the fact that the Giants have a chance, they are "in the hunt," as Coughlin said on Monday.
One thing I do think the first four games tell us, though, is that players still play for Coughlin. The old man says some weird things at times, and his strategy is occasionally questionable, as we talked about above. There are a couple of things, however, that I think are beyond question. First, I think players still love playing for the old man and give him absolutely everything they have. Second, from the end of one game to the beginning of the next I don't think anyone is better -- especially in crisis. His ability to read the mood of his team, to prepare, to energize and motivate players in desperate need of a pick-me-up is what makes him a great coach, a great leader of men.
"I would say he's come in with more energy (since the 0-2 start), more enthusiasm, and a guy who's 69 years old. He comes in, he's doing jumping jacks in the meetings, it's always a joy to see how much he loves to do what he does, and how much of a competitor he is. It's easy to get up and go out and fight for a guy like that," middle linebacker Jon Beason said of Coughlin.
"I think the thing that I love about Coach Coughlin is that he's consistent. He's going to preach the same thing no matter what. We have a process, we have goals in mind, and he knows how to get us there. When he's consistent, we're reminded of the fact that we can trust in him and the direction that we're going. You start off 0-2, plenty of good, not quite enough to get the W, but a lot to learn from. Knowing that "Hey, look at all of the great things we did do. Let's build on that and don't forget about those things. The small things that are costing us games, let's focus on those things and be more complete, and hopefully we can win more football games."
Mark Cannizzaro of the New York Post also rightly pointed out that the Giants entered the game with a brilliant plan that negated the strengths of the Buffalo defense and took advantage of the inexperience of Bills' quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
There are coaches who embrace change and newer ideas quicker than Coughlin. There are also probably coaches who manage in-game situations more sensibly. There still, however, isn't anyone who is a better leader of men.
None of that will rescue Coughlin if this doesn't turn out to be a good one for the Giants. I think, though, that it's worth recognizing.