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NFL 2017 Inc.

No matter where you fall on the side of excitement over football this year two things are for certain:

  1. It has waned for everyone thanks to the issues of long term effects and all the information being fed to parents about it.
  2. Football still remains far and away the most popular sport in America.

The fact that its still a ratings bonanza for every network means it still gets to swing its dick in every room its in.  So when Roger Goodell gets to play cop and supersede the investigation done by law enforcement and hand a six game punishment to Ezekiel Elliiot, which got reversed by a federal judge on Friday, a mere 24 hours before the Cowboys and Giants were set to open the season against each other.

Of course in a weird twist, he was eligible to play in Sunday’s game but that’s neither here nor there.

The NFL has gifted its Commissioner with a brand new contract extension but i wonder if Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft, two of the most powerful owners are waking up this morning exactly thrilled with the Commissioner’s powers.  He suspended Tom Brady four games for his dubious role in DeflateGate, which while it thrilled me as a Giants fan, always seemed like payback for the Patriots constantly getting themselves into these investigations after the Commissioner slapped them on the wrist for Spygate and told them “don’t do that again”.

But the NFL isn’t suffering because Roger Gooddell sucks as a Commissioner.  Or because of a looming (in 2021 no less) labor strike that’s almost guaranteed to happen.  Oh and once the new TV contracts come in the owners may be working off numbers that the players may not necessarily like.

The NFL is suffering because its retired players are and its current personnel are taking notice.  Consider that the average NFL player’s career lasts four years.  Most will never take home the millions that playing in a major professional sports league promise, but all will take home scar tissue created by sometimes almost a decade spent sustaining car crash like hits to the head and body.

Consider players like 23-year-old Su’a Cravens from the Washington Redskins who will spend the next month contemplating retirement.  Or the slew of 20-somethings who have already decided to retire early before the damage becomes permanent and affects their post-football life.

The NFL’s contract structure guarantees its players very little and gives ownership outs once the player is no longer fit to compete.  It seems unfair to ask players to continue risking its body for an opportunity that isn’t guaranteed but that’s how the NFL has always been and it doesn’t seem like it will change despite what Odell Beckham will try.  It remains to be seen what change the NFLPA can affect in the next labor negotiations but many things will be on its mind, namely the safety of its constituent base.  If not for a bigger share of the profits to then be put into a retirement fund, but at the very least to reduce the Commissioner’s power as its only legislative body dispensing his justice.

The best theory I heard about Gooddell’s recent run of challenging his sport’s best players is to do the bidding of the owners (his bosses) to undermine the players.  If you reduce them to interchangeable parts and tell everyone that nobody is special then you can negotiate from that position.  That’s where the biggest challenge will be.  It will be interesting nonetheless.

But it may blind them from the bigger issue which is to reduce the number of games (i’m looking at you preseason) that puts its best stars in dangerous spots in meaningless situations.

Moving on, I’m going to preview the season by doing my first power rankings in four tiers: Tier IV- No shot, Tier III- long shot, Tier II- raised eyebrow, Tier I- contender.

I have my picks for week 1 in the next column- enjoy

TIER IV- NO SHOT

32. New York Jets-
Odds to win Super Bowl: 1000-to-1

Outlook: Call this season what you will but the Jets are like that Delta jet that decided to race Hurricane Irma.  Sounds dumb but you have a duty to your customers.  The Jets should consider forfeiting the season but have a duty to their customers to show up physically for 16 games but every move they made this offseason from trading Sheldon Richardson to releasing Brandon Marshall was done with the future in mind.  Much of the Jet fanbase will be watching college football more intently than they do any of their games but consider this.  The defense is decent, but with a paper thin offense it will be tough to watch.  The Jets will need another season or two, after this to fully rebuild itself from this doldrum.  Not like the owner will be around to enforce any of this anyway.

31. Buffalo Bills-
Odds to win Super Bowl: 200-to-1

Outlook: The Sean McDermott led Bills made a conscious decision to remove a bunch of its former young stars via trades or letting them walk out of the complex (mostly to New England) to greener pastures.  What it did is set them up for a bountiful future.  What the Bills will do this year is play decent up front on both sides and figure out if Tyrod Taylor has any trade value.  They long ago wrote him off as a starting NFL QB and will hope to recoup some value by the trade deadline (my guess) to get more picks in the event that a team that fancies itself a playoff contender will need a competent QB.  At the very least they have a ton of picks to fall back on while the season plays itself out in Western New York.

30. Cleveland Browns-
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: The only reason i have them ahead of the Bills is because their rebuild is in the second phase.  The Harvard bred, forward thinking front office of the Browns has built the team in a very old school way.  They handed out a ton of money to help build one of the better offensive lines and are using the draft to build its defense.  Myles Garrett looks like a generational talent at the defensive end position and the position-less Jabrill Peppers will likely line up in the backend and use his athleticism to affect the deep pass accuracy of his opponents.  But the Browns are betting they have hit on QB already by naming third round draft pick DeShone Kizer as their starting QB.  Is it truly hard to think that a team with a stout offensive line and a rookie QB can make some noise this season?  Where have i seen that before?

29. Chicago Bears
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: This seems like a good time to mention that the John Fox tenure at Chicago is about to come to an end.  That’s the deciding factor in why I put them behind the San Francisco 49ers.  The Bears have a bad front office but have the pieces that should make them attractive to any coach-GM candidate.  The key to this season will be when Mitchell Trubisky becomes the starting QB and the city of Chicago will be on edge.  The future of GM Ryan Pace will be on the line.  If he shows any kind of promise it may be enough to keep him on the job but if this season ends as disastrously he may be on a one way ticket out.

28. San Francisco 49ers
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: We can all agree that Jed York is a bad owner and his decision to pick Trent Baalke over Jim Harbaugh likely set his franchise back.  But now he’s armed a GM with no experience and a head coach with zero prior experience.  While every decision will be viewed from that perspective, I liked their draft, and their steadfast nature to select the best player available.  That’s how every rebuilding team should approach the draft.  Kyle Shanahan has decent pieces on offense to make them a threat to any team that thinks they can sleep walk to a win.  It makes them intriguing for the season and should help the Niners start moving forward.

27. Jacksonville Jaguars
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook:  Even with dictator Coughlin manning the front office rather than the sideline expect the team to be fashioned in his image.  An imposing defense and hopes that the run game keeps the offense on the field long enough to give the defense rest and makes the defense play closer to the line so Blake Bortles can throw it deep to Allen Robinson.  While I think that seems unlikely, they will make betting against them tough.  MY prediction is that Leonard Fournette is the least likeliest to succeed in the NFL.

26. Miami Dolphins
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: Jay Cutler.  Every Bears fan, and every Denver Broncos fan know what this means.  Cutler is a nightmare to predict and the fact that many predict him to have his most productive year now that he’s reunited with former OC Adam Gase is beyond foolish.  What makes people think that Jay Cutler will be better than he was in his other stops in the NFL?  What makes people think Jay Ajayi is a top 10 back in the NFL?  His overall stats were solid but consider that outside of 3 games (1 against Pittsburgh, and 2 against Buffalo) where he had nearly half his year’s output, he had only one other 100 yard game.  I just don’t think this team will be the main deterrent to New England that some think.

25. Washington Redskins
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: the offseason was mired in a standoff with QB Kirk Cousins who may already have one foot in San Francisco.  If that happens, the Redskins will be left to head into next season without a QB of the future and outside of a drafting slot to get one of the top QB’s expected to enter next year’s draft.  But there will be enticing options and Jay Gruden has shown that he can turn a late round draft pick into a good QB.  Kirk Cousins is in the Alex Smith memorial hall of fame of guys who seem to lead their teams to respectability at the least while not scaring any defense or opposing fan base.  That Week 17 game where the Redskins had everything to play for and the Giants had nothing to play for shows you exactly who Kirk Cousins is: he can get you to the door, he doesn’t have the ability to walk through.

TIER III: Long Shot

24. Los Angeles Rams
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: I like them even without Uncle Wade having his best toy to play with heading into Week 1 at the least in Aaron Donald.  But regardless, the Rams should be improved with Wade’s aggressive scheme.  Hiring a QB-guru-centric coach is the right way to go but getting a home crowd advantage may prove difficult in a town that has rarely shown an interest in football before.  Consider the improvement in the defense and a safer approach to Jared Goff’s development and the addition of Sammy Watkins as steps in the right direction.

23. Detroit Lions
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: The Lions paid Matthew Stafford on a season where he improved his efficiency and helped his team to an above average record in close games.  The Lions were 8-4 in one possession games.  Make them even .500 and the division race isn’t even close.  The Lions will hope that games don’t end up that close by upgrading the offensive line but their defense remains suspect and that’s going to be too much to overcome.

22. Indianapolis Colts
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook:  Scott Tolzien is starting week 1.  Which means all of the proclamations of Andrew Luck’s health improving were all fluff.  You have to worry about the organization’s franchise guy if the reports of him missing a significant portion of the season are true.  Not when Tennessee has a chance to be legit contenders this year.  Let’s see.

21. Cincinnati Bengals
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook:  The Ringer’s Robert Mays put it best: the Bengals don’t do anything particularly well.  They are just solid on both fronts.  Losing their first round pick for a few games will hurt Andy Dalton but then Andy Dalton wasn’t likely to lead the Bengals to anywhere but 8-8.  Dalton and the Bengals need to break up for both their own good.

20. Denver Broncos
Odds to win Super Bowl: 40-to-1

Outlook:  The Broncos ultimately won the Brock Ostweiler deal even if they don’t have much to show for it.  Their defense will remain elite, but their offense won’t be unless Jamaal Charles returns to Chiefs form.  The Broncos play the style of one cut line play that fits what Charles can do but without his elite burst it may be a lot of 2nd and 8’s in the Broncos future.

19. Baltimore Ravens
Odds to win Super Bowl: 50-to-1

Outlook: This is one of two teams I’m leaving out of the contender talk but I can see a scenario in which they challenge for the division crown.  I love their defense and John Harbaugh coaches the team well.  Joe Flacco will have a decent set of weapons (none inspiring enough to make me consider them legit contenders) but ultimately won’t prove enough to overthrow the Steelers from taking the division.

18. Houston Texans
Odds to win Super Bowl: 40-to-1

Outlook:  Ton of positive momentum stemming from JJ Watt’s incredible work as humanitarian/fundraiser stemming from Hurricane Harvey’s relief efforts.  But while this defense will remain elite, consider the offense’s ceiling to depend on when they feel comfortable enough to run Deshaun Watson out there.  He will take some lumps this season but this is about the future and the quicker Bill O’Brien realizes it, taking a step back, to potentially take a few steps forward, the better off the Texans will be for the future.

17. New Orleans Saints
Odds to win Super Bowl: 25-to-1

Outlook: These are ridiculous odds based solely out of some gumbo-eating handicapper.  There is nothing the Saints did this offseason that make them 25-to-1 odds on favorites to win the Super Bowl.  Nothing.  Drew Brees will do his thing on offense but losing Brandin Cooks was bad but necessary.  Not getting Malcolm Butler was a curious decision in that trade but a first rounder on the OL was another curious decision.   This is a big year for the Mickey Loomis/Sean Payton team.  If this season turns bad, expect major changes in the Bayou.

TIER II: RAISED EYEBROWS

16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Odds to win Super Bowl: 40-to-1

Outlook:  I’m taking points off for being on Hard Knocks.  Jameis has all the weapons on offense to realize his true potential.  This is the year we find out if he can overcome his mental mistakes.  There’s just too many moments where we heard Dirk Koetter scold him for making a poor decision.  He takes way too many chances.  This team is good enough to be 12-4 this year but it will all depend on how many times Dirk Koetter has to scold Winston.

15. Los Angeles Chargers
Odds to win Super Bowl: 60-to-1

Outlook:  Here’s a dark horse candidate to legitemately surprise people.  There’s been too many times this team has been snakebitten for one year not to go their way.  Rivers has a very good complement of weapons to put up his usual stats and the defense has an absolute stud in Joey Bosa who will terrorize opposing QB’s alongside Melvin Ingram.  Expect this team to be the talk of LA and the one difficult ticket in their 30,000 seat stadium.

14. Arizona Cardinals
Odds to win Super Bowl: 40-to-1

Outlook:  If everything about Bruce Arians wanting to chuck it deep more is true, expect Carson Palmer to have a really good year.  David Johnson is enough to scare defenses that they CAN be aggressive deep because of the many ways that he threatens a defense.  Expect the Cards to be terrific and Hasaan Reddick to have the best year from any defensive player from this draft.

13. Carolina Panthers
Odds to win Super Bowl: 30-to-1

Outlook:  The great white hope Chrisian McCaffrey will be a test in where the RB position is headed.  Teams are now looking for the next David Johnson and the Panthers may feel like they have their guy in McCaffrey who will line up in multiple ways.  Keeping him on a pitch count will help keep Jonathan Stewart AND Cam Newton healthy.  I would not be shocked by a F U year from Cam and the Panthers to put them back in the discussion as among the league’s best.

12. Tennessee Titans
Odds to win Super Bowl: 20-to-1

Outlook:  The trendy AFC contender pick.  Mariota still seems like a gimmick QB to me and for me he’s the one guy that can drive this ship to be champions or not.  They will win the South but I have my reservations in putting my faith in a gimmick QB and a coach named Mularkey.

11. Minnesota Vikings
Odds to win Super Bowl: 40-to-1

Outlook: Ton of Super Bowl talk with a defense ready to contend but I still don’t see them being better than the Packers.  Do you?  Regardless, Sam Bradford is on injury alert for me.  His stats were misleading last year as he led the league in accuracy but his yards per attempt were the lowest out of all QB’s who started atlas 15 games.  The Vikings need Bradford to take a step forward.  It might be too much as he’s now in journeyman phase of his career.

10. Philadelphia Eagles
Odds to win Super Bowl: 40-to-1

Outlook:  Here’s the other team that could potentially upset the natural order of things in the division. There’s a clear path forward for this team.  They improved a receiving corps that hindered QB Carson Wentz’ development.  Even a slight improvement by Alshon Jeffrey and co will make the Eagles a looming threat to both the Giants and Cowboys.  I can see them being no less than 3rd in this division and can easily see them playing important games in late December for playoff positioning.

9. Kansas City Chiefs
Odds to win Super Bowl: 25-to-1

Outlook: Double check those odds after a decisive Week 1 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots where it looked like they cloned dynamic offensive talent Tyreek Hill in Kareem Hunt, their rookie RB who had the best debut fantasy performance by a rookie running back in history.  I still don’t trust Alex Smith to lead an NFL franchise to the promised land.  With Eric Berry landing on IR with a ruptured achilles the back end of KC’s defense takes a huge blow given how many athletic tight ends there are in the league.  Berry was an equalizer far too few teams in the NFL have.

TIER I: The Contenders

8. Dallas Cowboys
Odds to win Super Bowl: 12-to-1

Outlook: Someone will have to explain the Cowboys rosy outlook given the turnover they had on defense.  I get what they are doing on defense, but have they really improved?  Wasn’t last year the high watermark for Dak’s efficiency?  Isn’t losing two of their offensive line starters going to cost them? They can’t possibly better thant hey were last year when they went 13-3 right?  Am i clouded by my Giants fan bias?

7. New York Giants
Odds to win Super Bowl: 12-to-1

Outlook: The offensive line still makes me uneasy.  But the defense only gets better with continuity and adding a big hulking receiver in Brandon Marshall makes them better in the red zone.  A lot of guys played beyond expectation last year and expecting that kind of projection to continue would be unrealistic.  But I think this offense plays better and my spidey-senses are tingling about this season.

6. Oakland Raiders
Odds to win Super Bowl: 8-to-1

Outlook: I don’t get this line.  If there’s one team that can have all the goodwill undone from the previous year, its this team.  I don’t buy the Marshawn Lynch addition as a reason to push them over the top but a good QB like Derek Carr can offset a lot.  Ask the Giants from last year.  I think Carr is a top 8 QB in the NFL.  But I don’t buy this team as a legit Super Bowl threat.  I’m just not willing to bet that they take a huge fall from last year but the first four games will be telling.

5. Atlanta Falcons
Odds to win Super Bowl: 16-to-1

Outlook: There’s got to be a Super Bowl hangover.  You don’t lose that game, THAT WAY and come back like nothing ever happened.  Matt Ryan is in a contract year and seeing what QB’s are making must have him salivating.  Steve Sarkisian, new OC for the Falcons won’t shy away from taking chances and that’s exactly the mindset you need after losing the Super Bowl for, taking chances.  Kudos to coach Dan Quinn for wanting to maintain that identity despite what the naysayers will say.  Expect a YUUUUGE year from Julio Jones.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers
Odds to win Super Bowl: 10-to-1

Outlook: If there’s a team that can dethrone the Patriots its this team.  If the Chiefs showed that you can play man-defense and the Pats are really going to be that thin on defense, the Steelers may have the offense to beat the Pats even in Foxboro.  But for the Steelers to have any chance in January, they better be hosting the Patriots.  Even then it may not matter given their recent history.

3. Green Bay Packers
Odds to win Super Bowl: 8-to-1

Outlook: Sunday’s season opener between the Seahawks and Packers will legitimately have a chance to decide who hosts who in the NFC championship game so writing off Week one won’t be easy for the loser of this game.  The Packers have Aaron Rodgers and a bevy of weapons on offense against that spectacular defense.  I still think the Seahawks are a better team overall and John Schneider made sure of that with the slew of trades he made to fortify this team’s depth.  Sunday afternoon should be eye opening.

2. Seattle Seahawks
Odds to win Super Bowl: 8-to-1

Outlook: The Seahawks doubled down on their strengths and moved the needle slightly on offense which may have given Russell Wilson another half second to play with which may be enough.  The responsibility of keeping Wilson upright falls on a very shaky O-line which had two more starters go down with season ending injuries but expect Wilson to play almost MVP-like to lead the team to the Superbowl in a rematch against…

1, New England Patriots
Odds to Win Super Bowl: 11-to-4

Outlook: We’ve been down the road before where early in the season Tom Brady doesn’t look like himself and his demise is prematurely being discussed because…ratings.  But make no mistake, this team beefed up on offense and I trust Bill Belichieck to get his team ready on defense every week.  Against the Chiefs the Pats seemed to play against their natural instinct to be aggressive and made some uncharacteristic mistakes which swung the game in KC’s favor.  Don’t expect those mistakes to continue.  Brady is mad.  And when Brady is mad, that usually means good things for the Patriots and bad things for the rest of the league

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Big Blue Thoughts Week 7

Ten thoughts following the Giants 31-21 defeat at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T stadium in Dallas, Texas.

1. The Cowboys are good….- Naturally I reserve the right to change my mind but the eye test proves it.  The Cowboys are playing sound, power football and have the playmakers on the outside to make you pay if you overcompensate in the box (nice sexual reference I know).  The offensive line is basically the best unit going in all of football- better than the Legion of Boom Seattle secondary.  They are winning individual battles at the point of attack and helping to win games for the Cowboys.  The defense, as a result, doesn’t need to play as much and allows them to be fresh.  Remember, this is a unit that lost its two best players and still sits as the 22nd best team defense based on total yards surrendered, giving up the 15th most yards per game, 18th most pass yards, 21st most rush yards, and tied with Green Bay for 16th most points given up.  So how does a team that has a +1 turnover differential get such acclaim?  Because Rod Marinelli has tied scheme with the pieces given and formed a unit that likely will have to continue playing great football for not so long stretches of the game.  This is a team that had the ball for more than 31 minutes in the game they lost in San Francisco, then had it for more than 41 minutes in Tennessee, almost 35 minutes against the Saints, 36 minutes in OT against Houston, nearly 38 minutes in Seattle, and 33 minutes against the Giants.  The only time they LOST the time of possession game was against the Rams, where they had to pass their way to victory after going down 21-0 midway through the second quarter.  This is a team that makes no bones about its offensive identity: they will run the football with a physically imposing running back who has finally managed to stay healthy and the minute they think you’re cheating at the line of scrimmage they will throw the football to a physically imposing wide receiver who’s on the short list for dominant wide receivers in the sport.

Do I trust the defense in the second half of the season when the weather turns cold?  Just looking at their next month, they go against Washington on Monday night, Arizona at home, and then travel to Jacksonville before they hit their bye.  They could enter their bye 8-2 if we are to assume that they lose to Arizona and even then you can’t assume anything.  Then the schedule gets a bit more daunting.  Sunday night against the Giants, then a quick turnaround against the Eagles on Thanksgiving day, followed a week later by a game at the who knows where mentally they will be Chicago Bears, ten days later at the Eagles for what could be pole position in the division, home for the Colts and then close out the season against the Washington Redskins. who may have Robert Griffin back healthy with what looks like a slate of solid weapons.  If one were an optimist, and say the Cowboys run the table till the bye, let’s say they split the Eagles games, sweep the other two divisional opponents, and lose to the Bears and Colts, we’re still talking a 12-4 regular season.  Here’s where the Tony Romo, Jason Garrett era has always hit a hard thud, there will be one or two losses that could slip into that dreamy scenario that could ultimately undo them, but this iteration of the Cowboys seems markedly different than the play for the division on the final day of the season Cowboys teams that always stopped short.

Based on the records as it stands, the Eagles face a tougher stretch.  The Eagles have Dallas twice, but also have yet to play Seattle and they draw Green Bay by virtue of winning the division last year.  Let’s assume they beat Arizona at home which is no easy feat, and then beat Houston and Carolina.  Let’s say they split one of the two against the Cowboys and split one of two against the Green Bay and Seattle teams and then win out.  That’s a 13-3 record for the Eagles.  I trust the Eagles defense more than I do trust the Cowboys defense and those two divisional games between the two will be huge especially the December 14th showdown at Philadelphia.  Should be an interesting 2 months to see this drama play out in Big D and Broad Street.

2. …this loss means the end for the Giants? Technically no one is officially knocked out but look at the two schedules and the if everything plays out as it should scenarios for the two teams- Dallas, would wind up 12-4 or 13-3 and Philly would go 13-3.  The best record the Giants could get now is 12-4 and thats by running the table Jim Fassel style.  That means beating Indy and San Fran at home and then beating Seattle AT Seattle and then also beating Dallas and Philly once which would make things interesting again.  They end the regular season in Philly.  But to get there, they would have to get through that tough stretch completely unscathed and there’s no evidence that the Giants even make it out of that stretch 1-2.  Remember, these two games were as must-win as must-win can be this early in the season and they failed both times.  If you think the wild card will be there for the taking consider that one of the two spots will be taken by the Dallas/Philly group and the other spot will likely come from the NFC West who have the defending champions, the Niners, the Cardinals and a suddenly dangerous Rams team.  Good luck trying to slip in through the wild card.  Crazier things have happened and Giants fans can attest to that.  It will be difficult to envision the Giants going any better than 10-6 and barely missing the playoffs.  Of course, as the season goes on, you have the out of nowhere injuries to significant players.  The Cowboys don’t have the kind of depth on defense that can afford any type of major injury.  The Eagles are a sound team but if LeSean McCoy doesn’t start performing better and the offensive line continues to have the kind of injuries they already have had (they are playing without Evan Mathis and Jason Kelce), the season could turn and the Eagles could start to suffer.  But I still like the Eagles and Cowboys thanks to their schedules to make it out with double digit wins more so than the Giants.

3. Is it time to put an end to the fairy tale that was Larry Donnell? No.  Physically he’s still a match up nightmare.  Mentally one has to wonder if the young kid can put the two costly turnovers late in the fourth that ultimately cost the Giants Sunday’s game.  We won’t have the answer to that for a few weeks, but the Giants have capable players up and down the roster offensively to start making a difference and the “next man up” philosophy will be put to the test if he doesn’t take care of the football better.  One thing we’ve learned about Coach Coughlin is that he HATES players with fumbling issues and isn’t a coach that takes kindly to mental mistakes.  It bears watching how Coughlin handles this in terms of the depth chart.  Daniel Fells continues to be steady and reach the end zone, but I know coming into the season  The Giants are heading into the bye and perhaps time off will heal the wound of Donnell’s fumble but Coughlin will remind the young TE that a 3 TD performance in Washington does NOT a career make.  The play in question wound up being a 14 point swing when Donnell fumbled at the New York 27.  The Cowboys scored 4 plays later with a 1 yard TD run by DeMarco Murray.

4. Eli Manning continues to be mistake free….- But the Giants keep losing.  Eli’s career record when throwing for at least 2 TD’s and zero interceptions is 21-6 (.777 win pct).  Coincidentally three of the six losses were to the Cowboys.    When the Giants handed the offense to Ben McAdoo one of his chief responsibilities was to reduce the amount of interceptions thrown by Eli.  He’s already done a fantastic job.  Eli has thrown 5 interceptions in 7 games.  Compare that to 2013 when he had thrown his 5th interception by the fourth quarter of game number two.  The biggest question surrounding Eli has always been about his erratic play but there’s no doubt that the early returns on this new offense have been good.  Eli has limited his mistakes and some of that is due to the fact that he is no longer forcing the issue when being under pressure.  He’s making sure to throw those god-awful short throws at the knees of his running back rather than throw it and hope for the best.  Think about the effect that has on an offensive line that everyone agrees has not improved as much as the Giants brass would have liked.  The offensive line is projected to give up 10 fewer sacks this year than last and that’s with an eight sack performance at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles on their register.  While the benefits may not be seen now, mistake free football is what helped win two Super Bowls.  This can only lead to better things.

5. Andre Williams isn’t there yet.- And that’s ok.  The rookie was thrust into a role after a few highlights of him lowering the boom on some unsuspecting cornerback.  But you’re now seeing why he wasn’t projected as high on team’s draft boards.  He’s not as quick or shifty as the superstar running backs in the league.  He’s a pound it out in between the tackles 4 yards at a time the hard way kind of guy.  Those guys age quick.  Its the guys that can avoid the hits that last in the league and Williams hasn’t learned that trick yet.  Jennings, another big back, did a great job when he was healthy of showing burst once he hit the hole.  Williams runs into the hole and finds very little room to operate because he didn’t read the hole correctly.  That will come with time and repetition.  The Giants brought in former Jet Alex Green and former Cowboy Felix Jones for workouts but that’s more as a contingency.  They believe Jennings will be healthy enough to play after the bye.  But it does bear watching how reverting back to a part time role could make Williams more productive or if it has a negative impact on his development.  If he is in fact the future feature back, these few games may be the best thing for his development.

6. The defensive line is going back into its shell- The Giants went up against two above average (Philly) to really good (Cowboys) offensive lines and failed both times to generate any consistent rush.  Yes, their performance in Dallas was significantly better than it was in Philadelphia where it seemed like the Giants weren’t in the same league as the Eagles, but again a breakdown in fundamentals led to critical scores for the Cowboys.  Terrance Williams’ touchdown catch saw Tony Romo break to his left once he realized that JPP had taken an inside route to get the sack and he had acreage to run or stop, set himself and throw a touchdown strike to Terrance Williams.  It was similar to watching the Giants break contain against Shady McCoy.  The way to stop shifty players is to force them to try and go straight when they really want to run left or right.  Shady and Tony Romo are adept enough to wait for you as the defender to make the first move and give away where you’re going to try and get them so that they can instinctively make a counter-move.  The importance of being patient and allowing the player to fall into the hands of the defense are vital and the Giants failed both times.  During 2011, JPP had a knack for making the sure tackle and being excellent in run support because he was able to hold the point of attack on running plays and force the runner to either go way outside or shift back inside which led to short or no gain.  That’s the kind of performance we need.  Coach Nunn has promised to unleash DaMontre Moore and shift Kiawunuka to the inside on certain passing downs to generate  a pass rush but he said it with the nugget that he doesn’t think DaMontre Moore is necessarily ready to make that leap.  The Giants, more so than others, can be hamstrung by what they see in practice.  They recognize talent but if the talent doesn’t perform from Monday-Saturday they won’t trust it Sunday.  I’m not going to second guess them because their method has worked.  But sometimes you have to take chances that don’t have anything to do with your hand being forced due to injury.

7. Who deserves more credit? Tony Romo or Demarco Murray- Its a popular question but I offer this response: the offensive line.  That offensive line has changed everything for the Cowboys and I beg someone to say that the offensive line’s performance hasn’t been what has spurred the Cowboys resurgence this year.  As I wrote earlier, their affect on how long the defense has to stay out there, or their ability to wear opposing defenses out can’t be felt until the third and fourth quarter.  It reminds me of the offensive line the Giants had in late 2007  and throughout most of 2008.  The rushing stats for the Giants were unbelievable because the offensive line dominated the point of attack and forced the issue and moved buildings out of the way for the runners to run through.  Giving Tony Romo, an already talented quarterback, a running game and an offensive line that can pass protect well is creating the illusion that the Cowboys have an extra receiver on passing situations and a big TE blocking on running situations: it looks unfair.

8.  Why didn’t the Giants just keep passing it last Sunday?-  That’s a very good question and one that I think has more to do with how the game was being played and how close the game was until five minutes left.  Yes, the Giants were having success passing the football.  Eli played another fantastic, mistake free game.  But the fact is Tom Coughlin has always preached balance and he won’t change the identity of his team to suit the narrative of ONE game.  Remember, the Giants were trailing the Cowboys by 7 with 5:28 left in the game so there was no reason to panic and deviate from the game plan.  There is some merit to the thinking that perhaps the Giants should’ve gone pass heavy to set up the run and flip the script.  In the fourth quarter the Giants went pass heavy calling 12 pass plays to 4 run plays.  Technically the Giants did go pass heavy but two fumbles by Larry Donnell extinguished any chance of the Giants being able to score.  It will be interesting how the play calling changes if Rashard Jennings does not return after the bye.  Will the Giants rely heavily on the pass game?

9. Hey Rook, you’re a veteran now- That’s the headline that screamed this week as Victor Cruz’s injury now forces Odell Beckham to come into his own as a veteran.  I’m one of those guys who views injuries like this as opportunities for players who have the skill to put their talent on full display and I believe that Beckham will do just that.  I’m a fan of his route running, and his ability to get down the field and create mismatches.  Judging by “Drafting Giants” the NFL Films production that aired as a miniseries on the NFL Network, the Giants thought the world of him and love his pedigree; both his parents were professional athletes.  I did find it surprising that the Giants would be vocal about expanding his role in the offense.  There’s a difference in the tone that the Giants speak about him than say a Damontre Moore, a second year defensive end that the Giants feel similarly enthused about.  While Moore physically is able to dominate at the line of scrimmage, there are concepts he still is having problems with.  Beckham, who’s early injury put doubt into people’s heads about his toughness, sprung from his first game and immediately made an impact.  Whether its his budding connection with Eli which seems to be almost instinctive, or its his other skills that were on display from the day the Giants and other teams scouted him, it just looks like the added responsibility won’t be too much for the rookie receiver to handle.  An Adrien Robinson who has been the tight end of the future while the Giants keep inviting one year tryouts for tight ends has found it difficult to make it on the field on Sundays, and almost found himself completely out after Larry Donnell’s breakout performance the first few weeks.  The Giants aren’t sending mixed signals.  Some players progress a lot quicker than others.  Its just a nature of the game and the point of the game is to win.  The best players make the plays on Sundays and the best players play on Sundays.  For rookies, that means growing up quicker than maybe the  traditional process says.  But I don’t think Beckham minds.

10. Looking ahead- Well a bye couldn’t have come at a better time.  It feels like a coming to God moment for the Giants.  I thought they had to, at the very least, split the series against the Eagles and Cowboys.  Now, the focus comes to Indianapolis who has been playing excellently recently and that offense led by Andrew Luck and old friend Ahmad Bradshaw.  The Giants last played the Colts when they had a young buck called Peyton Manning as their quarterback.  This version of the Colt QB is just as dangerous if not more thanks to his physique.  If you thought Tony Romo was tough to bring down, I promise you Luck will be tougher.  Sacking Luck will require multiple Giants converging at the QB and even then, he has the arm and upper body strength to get the football out.  If the Giants don’t get pressure on Luck it will be a long day.  One player to keep an eye on: Dwayne Allen.  He missed virtually all of last season following a hip injury that put him on the IR.  His ability to block and be an able member of the passing game was a huge loss for the Colts but the Colts are a resilient bunch.  It forced certain players to play a more pronounced role.  With Allen back, a lot of players can now take their rightful place in the offense.  The Colts won’t expect Colby Fleener to block.  He can play the Dallas Clark role by lining up outside of the down linemen.  Allen’s presence is huge in this offense and the reason they have rolled off the kind of numbers they have.  Interestingly enough, the Colts last year played the kind of murderer’s row of schedules the Giants will.  Starting in week 3 the Colts played the 49ers in San Fran, the Seahawks at home, the Chargers in San Diego and the Broncos in Indy in five weeks and went 3-1 in those games.  So the lesson here is that it can be done.  The mistake free Eli needs to play those games.  If not, the Giants may not stand a chance and a bad 0-2 stretch can stretch into a nightmarish midseason which will give way to a pointless end of season string of games.  The Giants are now forced to win nearly all of the next few games against the Colts (at home), Seahawks (in Seattle), Niners (at home) and Cowboys (at home) to even survive and keep up with the Cowboys and Eagles.  Let’s remember, they have to win all of their division games thanks to losing to the Eagles and Cowboys in consecutive weeks.  This will be an interesting after the bye stretch.

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Headlines 1/4/2013

act_carmelo_anthonyThe Knicks had been struggling for some time on defense and needed a team to come in to reinvigorate them on that end and wouldn’t you know it, the schedule read: San Antonio Spurs!  Yep, the Knicks not only beat the Spurs, sweeping the season series for the first time in nearly a decade, the Knicks dominated the Spurs on their home court.  Al Iannazzone of Newsday wrote that this was one of the more impressive showings by the Knicks this season beating what Mike Woodson calls “the best team in the NBA.”  Nate Taylor of the New York Times writes that after watching footage from games just six weeks ago when they had the best defense and offense, they were able to put on a vintage 2012 performance for the second game of 2013.  Mike Vaccaro of the Post thinks that there are stretches within the game that make you think about what can be for the Knicks.  Mitch Lawrence of the Daily News writes that maybe Spurs coach Greg Popovich should have sent his stars home, maybe the reserves would have put up a better effort against these Knicks in their fourth game in five night stretch.

A few things about this Knick game were encouraging, first and foremost being the defense.  Certain coaches bring an identity and can typecast their team.  Mike D’Antoni certainly has a reputation of being an offensive genius while ignoring defensive principles, while Mike Woodson is known for emphasizing defense.  I don’t doubt that both preach the other side of the ball that they are supposed to be not so well versed in, but sometimes you just get that reputation and its hard to shake it unless there’s a dramatic shift in their team’s play in that other side of the ball.  But the Knicks forged a defensive intensity that you just hadn’t seen from them.  My theories, in order, were 1. Jason Kidd, 2. Tyson Chandler, 3. Mike Woodson.  These three guys have won and know that the only way to win games in May and June is on the defensive side of the ball.  Kidd in particular has impressed me because he faces quicker guards on a regular basis, but his intelligence and quick hands are great equalizers and allow him to keep up with even the quickest of guards.  

Chandler has always played defense and last year was like the lone wolf howling at the moon and the Garden faithful enjoyed watching him play.  This season he has more help and certainly stands to gain more once Iman Shumpert returns.  This season, the Knicks just seem to know how to rotate better and know how to play with each other better because they have so many leaders on this team.  Whether its Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace (one Defensive player of the Year and the other, a member of the no-name Pistons squad in 04 that won the title), or Kurt Thomas on the bench, there’s so much veteran guidance and leadership and call me crazy, but maybe this was Grunwald’s plan all along: to have as many veteran voices on the bench to plead with Carmelo to play more defense and play more efficiently on offense.  

This win also speaks to the play of Pablo Prigioni.  Last year’s clear weakness was point guard play.  No doubt it contributed to the hype that Linsanity got and maybe inflated his value, but this year, the trio of Kidd, Felton and Prigioni have been such a better unit that its hard to remember the last time the Knicks got this kind of production from the position.  Prigioni, since preseason, has been doing that sneaky steal atleast twice a game and he again got a key steal and fed Carmelo for an easy two.  Every member of that team is confident with Prigioni in there and now with Felton out for four to six weeks, you don’t feel as uncertain.  Yes, I understand the concern people have with playing 35 and 40 year old point guards major minutes in games in January, but the hand has been dealt.  Its interesting that the Knicks have been experimenting with Shumpert at the point.  Perhaps getting youthful legs in there will be helpful, but having him as a primary ball handler is all good and well, but he has to be an instinctive point guard, otherwise he’s just another Toney Douglass: the full five second too late point guard who just never had the feel of a point guard.  Are the Knicks going to pay for playing these guys major minutes like this?  I’m sure.  But the fact is this is what they have to do and the Knicks just have to make do.

BTW, does anyone object to the whole JR Smith as our third most important player?  After Carmelo and Tyson, JR’s contributions off the bench- and its becoming nightly, are a reminder of how much of a luxury it is to have a guy that can create his own offense and can also spot up and score.  You can sit Carmelo for stretches when JR is going the way he is.  Does he have a ton of irrational confidence?  Sometimes.  But to play this game and to be good you have to.

Carmelo scored 23 but the most encouraging sign of his maturity came in two ways.  He was actively looking to pass out of double teams and rarely made a bad decision when he did and even if the relationship between he and Amare may be a forced partnership, its easy to see how comfortable and assured he is that he is the franchise cornerstone and he makes the Knicks go.  He tried desperately to get Amare involved in the offense in one series in the fourth, while the Knicks were building up their lead, passing it inside to Amare, who continued to do the fifteen pump fakes before putting up the shot that usually gets blocked (which is an indicator that he’s getting old and has lost most of the athleticism that made him a star), getting the rebound and then throwing it right back to Amare.  That comes from a confidence within that this is in fact his team and there’s no real threat there and I’m glad.  The only way for this to work is for Amare to understand his role on this team and that he’s going to be a third or fourth option depending on the set.  I do like that second team of offense that comes in behind the starting five when the Knicks bring in Novak, Prigioni, JR and Amar’e into the game.  Then you add in the stretch five of Rasheed and you certainly have the makings of a deep ten man rotation that could be formidable, depending on health, come May and June.

Rex Ryan tattoo of Mark Sanchez january 4And then there’s Rex Ryan.  The Daily News this morning published a picture of tanning Rex on a beach in the Bahamas sporting a tattoo of a woman (presumably his wife) sporting a Mark Sanchez jersey and….nothing else on his right arm.  This article in the Daily News is sure to make the rounds in the talk show universe today and adds another level of weirdness to this whole Jet soap opera.   Gary Meyers of the Daily News talks out all the problems that can arise from having a specific player’s name tatooed on the arm.  Mark Cannizzaro of the Post lists several enticing candidates for the Jets GM job and lists Tom Gamble the Director of Player Personnel of the San Francisco 49ers as the guy the Jets and Korn/Ferry should target to lead the Jets.  Finally the Pro Football Writers of America are ok with the fact that the Jets will only meet with the media on January 8th as opposed to the usual schedule of 7 days after the season ends.

This morning’s commute was extra  hilarious because of this story and usually when silly things like this happen, it makes radio and sports personalities very happy because it gives them a chance to be silly and boy do Boomer and Carton love doing silly.  Look, there’s nothing left to say about this except that the Jets look to be targeted by the media and they give them every reason to be targets.  In what universe could Rex think getting a tattoo of his wife ONLY wearing a Mark Sanchez jersey was a good idea?  There’s not a good enough explanation that you can have and one that I hope that we will hear come that very anticipated January 8th press conference.  For those wondering, I think if you were to rank what the Jets brain trust should be questioned about, it goes:

1. Why Mike Tannenbaum was fired and not Rex?

2. What were they thinking about with Tim Tebow and why, in their minds, were they not successful with him?

3.  How confident are you that Mark Sanchez can be fixed?

4.  Rex are you brain dead?  Why would you get a tattoo of your wife in a Sanchez jersey?

Those should be the first four questions out of the media’s mouth come January 8th.  How its anything else is beyond me.  Anyway, I hope Korn/Ferry is a PR firm as well because the Jets could use some good advice. 

Meanwhile, not so far off Crazy Island, the Giants head coach Tom Coughlin was apparently walking around like a crazy man as he described in this interview with Mike Francesa.  Antrelle Rolle apologized for the Giant letdown of a stretch run this season.

Its always fun to see Tom Coughlin red in the face, screaming from the sideline but I totally understand his pain and frustration when having to answer questions about a team he has seen time and time again come through in big games, not be able to even offer a whimper when it truly mattered.  Like any Giant fan, I expected a win against the Ravens and I expected it to be competitive against the Falcons who I don’t think scare anyone in the NFC.  The Giants should have never been in this position and who knows if this collapse by the Giants means that Washington was just meant to win this year or if this is a seismic power shift in the NFC East and that the Redskins are coming of age so quickly under the guidance of the young padawan, RGIII.  Regardless, these are the kind of final weeks that make a team look deep into its soul.  Certainly there is the talent to win atleast 10 games a year but the up and down show of effort leaves you wondering sometimes about whether the players are either understanding the situation they are in or even motivated to play a football game late in December.  Its crazy to think that this team, this unit wouldn’t know how to handle themselves in those situations but it happened.  Which makes Tom Coughlin crazy.  Which makes Jerry Reese crazy.  Which should make every Giant hoping to return back to a championship core very very scared.  

Finally, what to watch for tonight:  Bulls at Heat on ESPN at 8, Nets at Wizards on YES at 8 (just kidding).

Later today, I’m posting my AFC/NFC Wild Card weekend Previews

For your viewing pleasure…

Enjoy everyone!

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Headlines 1/3/2012

Yesterday’s biggest news story was the return of Amar’e Stoudemire.  But the story turned familiar.  The Knicks came out ice cold and couldn’t buy a lay up, while the other team was hitting every open shot they were given.  At one point the Knicks went down 19 and once again climbed to within one shot of tying, but could never find the defensive stop they needed.

“You can’t keep spotting teams 20-plus leads and think you’re going to win,” Mike Woodson said. “The last few games have been a disaster in terms of how we’re starting games.”

Mitch Lawrence of the Daily News writes that Amar’e Stoudemire is in direct competition with Carmelo Anthony to get touches and therein lies the rub and the greater storyline as it relates to the rest of the 2012-2013 season.  In a more optimistic story, the New York Post’s Kevin Kiernan writes that if Carmelo and Amar’e learn how to work together, and the fans are patient, a bigger reward awaits the Knicks. Zach Schonbrun of the New York Times writes that Amar’e Stoudemire’s standing ovation was ripe with optimism but filled with caution.

Yesterday’s game was a pretty familiar storyline.  Fall down early, make a great comeback but ultimately fall short.  The added storyline of Amar’es return and Carmelo’s return from a two game sit out due to a hyper extended knee made this a must watch game.  Nothing about this game was pretty, despite 45 from Carmelo Anthony.  The Knicks continue to live and die by the three and yesterday they were slaughtered.  The Knicks were 10-37 from beyond the arc while the Blazers shot 11-33.  It seemed that every shot that Nicholas Batum took either went in or airballed and he didn’t airball much.  He was the high man, and also the one given the responsibility of trying to guard Carmelo.  When one on one defense didn’t work, the Blazers began double teaming Melo.  Credit Melo with finding his open teammates, but nobody ever found a rhythm that would make the Blazers go away from the strategy of doubling Melo.  

JR Smith continues to be a real Six Man of the Year candidate playing an all around game that everyone thought he could play but never lived up to, either due to immaturity or indifference.  Either way, the idea I would think, is to have Amar’e and JR come in to give the team an offensive lift when they can’t seem to score points.  At some point Steve Novak will start hitting the close to 50% that he can, and the Knicks will have a formidable 9 man rotation.  Of course, the odd man out in this rotation will be Ronnie Brewer who is known for his defense and is a starter by name only, but plays very few minutes thanks to his inability to hit the wide open corner three, once Iman Shumpert returns.  That return is still being speculated about, but expect in the next two weeks to hear an announcement from the usually tightlipped MSG office.  I found the rotations a bit weird, as this was kind of a throwaway game for the Knicks.  They were working with several line ups, but having a very quick hook with any line up that had Carmelo and Amar’e in it which was odd to me.  Its a chemistry issue they want to avoid for now until Amar’e gets fully healthy, or its something they have decided upon for the betterment of the team.  Stoudemire’s minutes were limited to 20 yesterday but while he only played 17, he seemed tentative and hesitant.  Too amped up on his first few attempts before settling down on his old familiar: the pick and roll drive to the hoop dunk.  Once he got that lead pass from Pablo Prigioni, and he dunked, there was that familiar spark in his eyes.  

On the other side, I was extremely impressed with Damian Lilliard.  I had heard he was a legit rookie of the year candidate (the lead dog IMO), but to see him in person was impressive.  He’s got that quickness and body control that makes him a poor man’s Derrick Rose.  That step back three was the kind of shot that you only see from more poised veteran guards and it tells you how much more mature beyond his years this kid really is.  A four year starter from Weber State, Lilliard is proving to be the team’s best draft selection since LaMarcus Aldridge.  Also, how in the hell does JJ Hickson dominate us EVERY FREAKING TIME?  He’s in the ALL-“ROLE PLAYERS WHO HAVE CAREER GAMES AGAINST THE KNICKS ALL THE TIME” Team.  

The Jets offseason unofficially started the day they couldn’t beat the Tennessee Titans, but their official offseason started Monday when they fired the GM, Mike Tannenbaum.  Many wrote about how Rex should have been given a pink slip with the GM.  Rich Cimini of ESPNNY writes why this plan of action, hiring a GM while keeping the incumbent coach, could be a death penalty for Rex. Ben Shpigel of the New York Times writes “No doubt the Jets’ position is appealing; only 32 of these jobs exist, after all. But whoever takes over for Tannenbaum will inherit a mess at quarterback, several bloated contracts and a roster in dire need of an overhaul, not to mention a coach he did not choose in Ryan, whose return in 2013 Johnson guaranteed.”  Mark Cannizaro of the Post writes that a curious decision was to let Tony Sparano hang on to his job as offensive coordinator, though he admits that the Jets lead the league in curious decision making.  Steve Serby of the Post writes that Rex needs to come out and talk about it.  His press conference was canceled by the team on the day that Mike Tannenbaum was let go.  The owner Woody Johnson had a five paragraph statement read.  In fact, the only member of the Jet hierarchy that did any talking, was the guy they let go: GM Mike Tannenbaum.  Finally, Manish Mehta of the Daily News, and Rex Ryan’s favorite scribe writes, “Rex Ryan, the king of transparency and accountability, isn’t talking.”

You can understand the frustration from the beat writing community as it relates to the Jets.  The team had a frustrating and disappointing season.  They aren’t in the mood to answer some difficult questions.  But the bigger dilemma becomes that the Jets organization wanted to dump everything on the lap of the GM while saving the coach who’s been at the head of much of this mess.  What I don’t know and what will apparently never be clear, is who was responsible for the Tim Tebow signing?  That was a decision made by an influential voice within the organization.  Was it Rex Ryan?  It didn’t look like it from the amount of playing time he got and the constant refusal to name him the starting QB especially in the meaningless week 17 contest against Buffalo.  Was it Mike Tannenbaum?  Maybe.  He did make the, now idiotic, decision to resign Mark Sanchez and guarantee him $20 million basically bolting him down to the Jets roster for the 2013 season.  But then why would he turn around the next day and go after Tim Tebow?  His decision to give Sanchez that contract extension was definitely influenced by the fact that he openly went after Peyton Manning and Mark found out and was upset by it, and yeah, this whole thing sounds soap opera-ish.  My guess is that it was owner Woody Johnson who has never really made a good decision since he’s taken over the team’s ownership.  

Woody has always been about the bottom line and winning the back page war with the Giants who never have had any desire to partake in that kind of thing.  This move was meant to distract everyone from the poor season they had.  Add to that, the whole building up a wall and the almost CIA Top Secret Tebow playbook and you had the makings of a ridiculous campaign that became bizarre.  Needless to say the Tebow situation was NOT the only reason the GM got fired, but the quarterbacking position was a major influence.  Add the contract, and the overall lack of depth to the roster and very few draft picks with which to fix the roster, Mike Tannenbaum leaves his successor very few avenues to go through in order to cure what ails this team.  

I know Jet fans won’t want to hear this and obviously they won’t consider this move, but the best way to get all of your draft picks back is to trade one of your best players.  Yes, if the Jets pay most of Mark Sanchez’s salary they may get a sixth round pick, but why do that deal in the first place?  My guess would be to bring in a strong QB’s coach to work with Mark.  The Jets should invest in a running game.  Steven Jackson will be a free agent soon, and he would like another chance at winning.  His price range may be too high for the Jets but they should consider knocking on that door.  They still have stars.  Maybe if they trade a guy like Muhammad Wilkerson OR Darelle Revis, they will get a bunch of draft picks back- maybe even a number one.  Remember, the Rams still have picks from their RGIII trade with Washington, and they are trying to find building blocks and Wilkerson would definitely be looked at as something they would want.  Would that be worth it? 

As it relates to media relations, this won’t get better unless the team gets better.  But even then, there are some feelings that need to be mended.  Its clear that several in the media are feeling ignored and not being given a story and don’t expect for them to continue to speculate, thereby giving the reader and the fanbase something to worry about.   Lately, the boastful and talkative Jets have gone into bunker mode.  What is the deal there?  The Jets will certainly have many questions to answer.  Once they find a new GM perhaps some of those answers will be given by an actual member of the Jets hierarchy.

While the Jets are majoring in confusion and outright non-commital, the Giants are in a different state of mind.  They were left with no answers as to why they no-showed their week 15 and week 16 contests against two playoff teams while demolishing the pathetic Eagles (there was no homer-ism in that description of the Eagles, just outright contempt.  Please note the difference).  Changes are coming for the Giants and one change that seemed imminent is now as close to official as can be: Osi Umeniyora announced on the Michael Kay show that he probably won’t be returning to the Giants and he will test the open market.  Ralph Vacchiano of the Daily News writes that panic isn’t setting in on the Giants, a team who came within one game of making the playoffs.  Paul Schwartz of the Post writes that it won’t be easy identifying what exactly happened in those week 15 and week 16 games, but it won’t be tough to know what needs to be done.  Zach Shonbrun of the New York Times writes that remorse is the word around Giants camp.  Remorse that a quality team didn’t get to defend its Super Bowl title.  Finally Ohm Yungmisuk of ESPNNY writes the same thing only with hilarious quotes from Martellus Bennett.

I’m not going to try and figure out weeks 15 and 16.  The usual flat performance that we’ve come to expect was the immediate answer following each loss, but it never seemed to accurately describe what happened.  Losing 34-0 to a Falcons team that shouldn’t have soundly beat the Giants?  Losing 33-14 to a team and a QB who had issues galore?  It just didn’t seem right.  If it was lack of focus and intensity then doesn’t some of that fall on the coaching staff?  Just trusting that a team that has done it before will pick it up automatically won’t be an easy sell to a fanbase that went into the season and especially after blowout wins against the 49ers and the Packers.  Clearly the talent is there to compete and a returning core will be a good start, but with almost two dozen players becoming either restricted or unrestricted free agents (here is a list) there will certainly be a good amount of change at the Timex center come next season.  

IF I had to guess who is definitely coming back from that list, I would say that Stevie Brown, Victor Cruz, Andre Brown (all restricted free agents), Lawrence Tynes, Kevin Boothe, Will Beatty, Sean Locklear,  Bear Pascoe, Adrian Tracy aka YOsi (young Osi), and Domenik Hixon.  Guys I would like to be re-signed but are iffy because of either price or shaky health are, Kenny Phillips, Martellus Bennett, Rocky Bernard, Ramses Barden, Chase Blackburn, and Keith Rivers.  Every other guy on that list is a goner in my eyes.  The Giants had another good to great year on the offensive line but saw too much of their health depleted.  

If I were in charge of the draft, I would try to find an offensive lineman (you draft tackles because they are usually the best athletes), before they find a pass rusher.  I think the Giants just had a off season in terms of pass rushing and Perry Fewell made the mistake of trusting that his line would apply pressure without any stunts or blitzes.  That last game against the Eagles, the Giants used a lot of stunts and linebacker blitzes and created a ton of turnovers.  That may be a blueprint for how Fewell designs pressure in the upcoming season.  The Giants line were not winning their one on ones which they were used to winning, so perhaps mixing in some pressure from the LB’s and corners along with winning some one on one match ups will help but the team needs to begin to play with more fire.  Maybe next year they won’t enter week 16 and 17 having to win games just to make it into the playoffs.  This is still a team capable of winning a Super Bowl and the window is right now open. As Martellus Bennett hilariously put it, 

“It is a big a– window, we are not talking about apartment windows on the side. We are talking like mansions.  Like [Evander] Holyfield’s house in Atlanta where he had people working the grounds for you,” the tight end continued. “I don’t think the window is closing. I think there are other guys coming in to open up another window.”

That remains to be seen.

 

What do you guys think?

 

 

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Giants/Browns Post game Reaction

The Giants went down 14-0 before people got comfortable, but just as the rain let up at Met life Stadium, the Giants began pouring on the points as they ran away with the game in the second and third quarters.  Here is the box score, as the Giants improved to 3-2 setting up the week 6 rematch of the NFC Championship game against the 49ers.

Here are some of the storylines coming out of this game:

Story lines

1. Plug and Play.  No Hakeem Nicks for the third straight game.  No Ramses Barden thanks to a concussion.   Martellus Bennet went down with a leg injury (more on him.)  And yet, there was Ruben Randle getting more looks his way.  There was Victor Cruz doing the salsa three times.  There was the running game coming alive.  There was Domenik Hixon, the oft-injured and oft-forgotten member of this receiving unit making tough catches.  Its amazing what a good, sound offensive unit looks like without making excuses and just simply executing.  I know I’m beating a dead horse with it, but Eli Manning’s leadership can’t be under sold.  He makes the wheels turn here.  He and Kevin Gilbride have the kind of relationship where both know how to direct the offense and work in tandem to put the Giants in the best position possible.  Its almost redundant at this point to say it but the offense’s injury woes are nothing but a speed bump for this team.  They keep plugging new guys in and keep clicking.  Of course, that depth will be tested this Sunday against arguably the best team in football, the San Francisco 49ers.

2. The running game is making a comeback.  In 2008, after a Super Bowl campaign, the Giants were looked upon as lottery winners against a Patriot team that would’ve beat them 9 times out of 10.  A 10-6 team that made it to the playoffs on the next to last week of the regular season and rarely looked the part were under dogs in EVERY SINGLE playoff game including the final one where they overcame the largest set of odds EVER for a Super Bowl game.  Of course, that season, the Giants just continued their magical carpet ride and ran out to an 11-1 start and looked the part of defending Super Bowl champions that many suggested they were lucky to be.  We all know what happened next: Plax enters the club with gun.  Plax shoots himself with gun.  Giants wind up losing in teh first round of the playoffs thanks to the distraction.  What that season had was a lot of running and the Giants ran the ball because they COULD.  They were the best offensive line in football that nobody cared to discuss.  This season’s offensive line has also been markedly improved over previous units and yesterday Ahmad Bradshaw working primarily as the lead back thanks to Andre Brown’s injury, rushed for 200 yards on 30 carries.  Even David Wilson got into the act and ran for his first TD through huge gaping holes.  When the offensive line pushes around the D-line like that its a beautiful thing and it will be very important for them to do the same next week against the uber tough San Fran D line.

3. Speaking of the D-Line… Where is the feared, vaunted pass rush that every broadcaster likes to bring up whenever the Giants are being talked about?  Granted they went up against an offensive line that features two of the best linemen in all of football in Alex Mack, the Pro Bowl Center and Joe Thomas the Pro Bowl LT, but STILL.  I’m convinced JPP is injured and needs a week off, of course that’s not going to happen anytime before the bye week, but its emerged as the most unlikeliest of concerns.  Yesterday I saw them play a lot of contain which had to do with the threat of the running game.  Trent Richardson looked like the number 3 pick and never seemed to go down with the first hit.  Elusive guys like Trent Richardson and LeSean McCoy give any team fits but when they get on the edges against the Giants they wreak havoc because the backside just does a horrible job in tackling rushers.  Especially rushers who bring the specific dimensions that Trent Richardson and LeSean McCoy do.  Guys who can cut on a dime or guys who have that extra muscle to shake off that first arm tackler.  The Giants began to gang tackle more as the game progressed because it seemed like they underestimated T. Rich’s ability to shed the first tackle.  The Giants were fortunate in facing a QB as inexperienced as Brandon Weeden, as they tried to play more coverage while playing contain on the line to make sure that they stayed at home to try and stop Trent Richardson.  Getting to the edge became difficult but not an arduous task and you can expect that more teams will try to employ that same strategy against the Giants.  Running to the edges will be something that I’m sure Perry Fewell and the Giants defensive coaches stress during the coming week of practice as they head west to face off against Frank Gore and that amazing running game of 49ers who just rushed for their second consecutive 300 yard game collectively.  If the Giants don’t get any pressure on Alex Smith like they did during the NFC Championship game, the Giants will be in for a long day as the Niners have obviously improved their passing game with Randy Moss and Mario Manningham in the fold with Michael Crabtree and Ted Ginn while also having Vernon Davis.  That’s a lot more than they had during the NFC Championship game where receivers had a total of 1 reception for six yards.  An improved receiving corp though has helped out the running game because of the respect defenses must give to the passing game.  If the Giants get zero pressure schematically like they did in these last few games the Niners will have their way with the defense because the secondary can not be left on an island to be picked apart, even if its Alex Smith doing the picking apart.

4. Do the Giants have the deepest receiving corp in football?  I’m not willing to go that far yet but I know Giants fans are thinking that following another game in which another receiver broke out.  Ruben Randle was the Giants 2nd round pick from this year’s draft and they love his athleticism.  They always felt like his potential was limited thanks to the bad quarterbacking in LSU.  You forget about Domenik Hixon because he’s gone down with injuries the last two years.  Ramses Barden was a featured receiver these last two games before his concussion forced him out of Sunday’s game against the Browns.  There was a Jernel Jernigan sighting.  But the Giants real star has always been continuity.  Whether it be at the quarterbacking position OR the offensive philosophy, the Giants bring up their receivers in the same system and give them time to grasp it before throwing them out there.  Victor Cruz might have come out of nowhere but he was in the Giants camp the previous summer and had a whole year to grasp the complicated offensive system.  Ramses Barden has been under bubble wrap since being drafted in the 3rd round in 2009.  Hixon has had two ACL surgeries worth of years to sit and learn the system.  Jernigan is entering his 3rd season in the system.  These aren’t newbies walking on and making the team. These guys earn their stripes by sitting and learning.  They gradually get comfortable and that’s why the Giants always look so good when they plug in these guys.  Its because of the experience they have.  So when the argument starts up with do the Giants have the deepest receiving corps in football?  I’d answer not exactly but they are the most prepared to step in and step up thanks to the Giants extensive grooming process they have.

5. New Giants showing their toughness.  I’m giving away the game ball early here but Martellus Bennet showed me something Sunday by playing with what was being announced as a hyperextension of the knee.  That happened in the first quarter and yet there was Bennet, toughing it out and playing through the injury.  That may not sound like much but for a brand new teammate who still has to prove his worthiness, not only to his teammates but to his coach, he showed them that he’s willing to play through it.  That builds trust in you from your teammates and gives the coaches an understanding of what you are willing to do in order to help the team’s success.

Decisions worth a second look aka In Hindsight, get ya mind right.

Just as self serving as the title is, we look at decisions that affected the turn out of the game after they were made and tell you why they were stupid.

In this situation, the Giants have just scored and have cut the deficit to 17-10.  Its the second quarter and 4:30 remains in the first half.  Trent Richardson has rushed the Browns to a 3rd and 1 situation at the Giants 25 yard line.  This is basically a wet dream for offensive coordinators because they can virtually call any play they want to depending on how frisky they are feeling at the moment.  So now that your star rusher has just got you to that position, what do you do?  Do you

A. Go with a simple rushing play up the middle?

B. Go with a rushing play to the edges where its been working all day?

C. Go with a play action for the big play?

D. Take out Trent Richardson and roll out with Brandon Weeden?

Well, you won’t believe it, but the Browns picked D.  Its easy to say that Trent needed a rest.  Its also easy to say that the Giants needed a rest too.  Why take out your most effective offensive weapon on a play in which even using him as a decoy would’ve increased the chances of you getting that first down?  Unless you just feel that your offense is good enough to make plays regardless of who is out there both on offense OR defense.

Subsequently Weeden rolls out, double clutches the football and overthrows the receiver and into the waiting arms of replacement safety Stevie Brown and into another Giants scoring drive.  Yes, it turned out to be a terrible decision and yes, judging by how the rest of the afternoon went, even if they had punted the feeling was that the Giants still would’ve scored.  But by turning the ball over they gave the Giants an extra possession at the close of the half and let’s not even get started on why the Browns would ever draw a pass interference call with :04 left in the half and gifting the Giants 3 points by setting them up in field goal range when they were no where near close to it.  These are the plays that separate the good and bad teams and why the Browns are winless and why the Giants are 3-2.

For some reason, there were people who questioned Tom Coughlin’s decision to leave Ahmad Bradshaw in the game after the opening hand off resulted in a fumble.  Where does this come from?  Simple.  We’ve been talking non stop about the Giants ability to plug and play.  The next man up attitude has filtered into our genome and enabled us to believe that no matter who steps in for the G-men, they too will be successful.  Its been a luxury but as we can see, a curse as well.  It makes us say and think stupid thoughts like bench Bradshaw.

There are subtle moves to coaching and much of it has to do with gut instinct.  First you have to ask yourself who could Coughlin turn to?  Sure, you had Andre Brown (who later left with a concussion) and David Wilson.  Secondly you have to look at the actual play that resulted in the fumble.  If you did, you would see that Chris Snee actually ran into the arm of Bradshaw and caused it to drag Bradshaw’s arm and pop the ball loose.  It was a freak play.  Plain and simple.  But those decisions have to be taken within context and in the context of that particular play, I don’t see how Tom Coughlin could reach in and bench Bradshaw.  Its a good thing to.  30 Rushes and 200 yards later, Coughlin’s non move was the right one.

NOTES

– There were a few pass interference penalties not called on the Browns that I thought were egregious.  Buster Skrine on Ruben Randle in the third quarter where half his shoulder pad was out was one of those “how did he not see those” penalties where the evidence was right there.  Then there was the interception where Sheldon Brown (former Eagle- no wonder I hate him so) had his arm in Victor Cruz’ arms before the ball got there, enabling him to swat the ball to Usama Young who made the interception.  That should have been pass interference and the interception should’ve been wiped off.  It wasn’t called and it will stay as an interception even IF that shouldn’t be the case.  There hasn’t been a graphic released about how many fewer pass interference calls there are but its clear that the regular refs have allowed a ton of contact down the field.

The reason I suspect that’s the case is that the flow of the game would be ruined.  We all cried about how long the games had become under the supervision of the replacement refs who enjoyed drawing attention to themselves by throwing laundry on to the field, but its clear that for the benefit of keeping the game moving they swallow the whistle.  Especially considering that the game was firmly in the grip of the Giants, the refs made a gut decision to NOT call that.  Of course, had the game been tight I’m willing to believe that the refs would have blown the whistle there but I’m sure that will come to play too.

– Not to offer excuses for his play but could there be something ailing Jason Pierre Paul?  After notching 16 sacks last season he has 1.5 and sometimes that number goes dramatically down for an established player when he’s playing through injuries.  Some believe its the constant double teams he faces now that are affecting his sack totals, but his motor isn’t one to just slow down and its clear that he doesn’t have similar burst off the line like he did.  The great thing about JPP is that he understands pad levels and normally gets his meat hooks underneath the pads and has enough strength to bull rush right up and collapse the pocket and force the QB into a mistake which are his specialty.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we learn that JPP is actually battling a few injuries much like Justin Tuck was all last season.

Looking ahead:

– The Giants now have established Ruben Randle, Ramses Barden, Martellus Bennet, and Andre Brown, as offensive weapons that teams must worry about to add on to Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks the established head ache inducers.  The beauty of that is how it plays into game planning against the Giants especially, if as rumored, Hakeem Nicks comes back.  Much like the Super Bowl where the Patriots used the presence of Rob Gronkowski as a decoy, the Giants can widen the playbook and force the Niners to play one on one across the board when the Giants go 4 WR.  The good thing about the Niners is this: they have LB’s who can cover in space as well and they are across the board solid tacklers.  The issue for the Giants will be to force the Niners into match ups that they don’t like and go with whatever Eli picks.  Eli will have added pressure of releasing the ball quickly enough to make the Niner pass rush obsolete.  This means that the Giants may do some quick slants and WR screens.  Of course this means that their play makers have to do things in space that teams have not been able to do against this aggressive Niner defense.  What the Giants have to protect against is merely being satisfied with the underneath routes.  Having Barden or Nicks go deep on routes are great but if they aren’t catching them it won’t mean anything.

The biggest players on the field this Sunday may be Martellus Bennet and the offensive line.  Bennett will have a lot of underneath passes thrown his way early to set up the deep ball.  It will be the offensive line’s job to keep the Niner pass rush at bay which will NOT be an easy task given who the Niners line up.  As great as Justin Smith and Aldon Smith are, Ray McDonald is such an important presence inside because he’s able to push the pocket almost as effectively as Justin Smith does and when they line up McDonald and Smith inside, and rush Willis, Brooks or Bowman through that opening that almost always opens up, the QB has about five seconds to release that pass.  Its an amazing testament to how great those inside guys are.  Underrated member of that linebacking corp is Ahmad Brooks who has had a sack in each of his last three games.  Of course he’s a recipient of all the attention that Bowman and Willis get but he’s taking advantage and it seems at times that there aren’t any weaknesses on the linebacking unit.

– The Giants have a ton of injuries but I expect guys like Jayron Holsley, Keith Rivers and Hakeem Nicks to play Sunday because of how important it is to the Giants to have a good group out there to play a quality team.  Had the Niner game been last Sunday, I fully believe Nicks would’ve played.  The Giants do tend to err on the side of caution but make no mistake that this team understands the importance of a conference game in October especially after going 0 fer in the division.  The schedule offers no gimmies and does no favors for the boys in blue, but this is most certainly not a definite loss for the Giants.

– The one group we will find out about tonight more so than any other group on the Giants is the offensive line.  They have been pretty good leading up to this game and have rarely given Eli reason to push them around on the sideline like Jay Cutler, but this week they face a defensive front as talented as there is in this league I’m dying to see how they respond.  They have now been together for the better part of three years and most of them have played together during that stretch.  Offensive lines usually take a few seasons to really gel to the point where you feel good as a coach and the Giants may be nearing that point on the line.

The Giants face another great offensive line but nothing like the one in Cleveland.  Like I said earlier, the offensive line for Cleveland has two Pro Bowlers who are the best at their individual positions (Center Alex Mack and LT Joe Thomas), and so I give them somewhat of a pass.  But come away sack less against the Niner offensive line and the alarm bells will definitely be ringing.  Not just because of the donut they put up, but also because if the Giants defensive line doesn’t get pressure on Alex Smith the Giants are going to lose this game.

– One thing I’ve noticed about Smith is that he’s quicker making decisions.  That comes with having experience in Jim Harbaugh’s system.  Alex Smith is making the proper reads and couple that with his ability to throw the touch passes he becomes a real head ache.  What the Giants will see offensively from the Niners is what every team should always do.  Generally you should always draw up a play that the defense doesn’t see coming.  Now, there’s enough data compiled this season in which teams have a good sense of what personnel will appear for what packages.  You see Colin Kaepernick you know to expect Wildcat.  The Giants conversely run a traditional offense not predicated on trick plays.  They may run a reverse but that was run with Mario Manningham mostly and wouldn’t you know, that the Niners have run the Mario Manningham reverse play twice, both resulting in gains of over 20+ yards.

The 49ers, across the board, understand that winning with Alex Smith will take more than just running a conventional offense.  It will take a few creative plays, a bunch of different formations running the football and a atleast 7-10 looks to Vernon Davis in space.  Many times people last year wondered how in God’s name Vernon Davis ever got open if he were the only weapon in the Niner arsenal in terms of receivers.  But what the Niners did well was keep Vernon in to block as a means of play action.  Davis has the body to be an excellent down field blocker.  Imagine Joe Staley, Anthony Davis and Vernon Davis all pulling left, those plays will almost always net you a large chunk of yardage.  When they effectively run that play well, it means they are setting it up for play action where Davis chips an oncoming rusher OR gets a clean release from the line of scrimmage and he wanders into an open space in any zone and sits there for a big gain.  They also LOVE to line him up in the slot as a traditional receiver and he automatically becomes a match up nightmare because he’s too fast for linebackers and too big for corners.  If Chase Blackburn winds up covering Vernon Davis the Giants will have a long day.  Which is why it might behoove the G-Men to use Jacquian Williams or even Michael Boley as a spy to stay on Davis.  Jacquian can stay there to match him for speed and Boley can keep up with him and play physically with him.  He creates spacing for the other receivers as much as the running game does.

Dont forget, that Mario Manningham will be playing for revenge and so will the Niners who still are under the same mystic spell that the Packers are that the Giants STOLE their chance at winning a Super Bowl last year.  Oh and Randy Moss I’m sure doesn’t forget that 2008 undefeated, greatest team of all time label that the Giants robbed his Patriots of.  There’s plenty of motivation on the San Fran sideline and plus they are playing at home which is an added bonus.  We’ll see how it plays out this Sunday.

Enjoy the game everyone!

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Daily Rounds 1/15/2012

On a relatively quiet sports….ok fine, even I couldn’t hold back.  The 49ers defeated the Saints 36-32 in a 60 minute thriller/Instant classic game that will go down as this season’s best game likely.  While people are trying to come up with a proper title for that amazing comeback engineered by Alex Smith (the Post?), thirty years after “The Catch”, these Niners are writing their own legacy writes Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle.  Tim Kawakami of the Contra Costa Times (bad ass name for a newspaper by the way), says that Vernon Davis authored one of the greatest moments in Niner legacy which, looking at team history, is extremely difficult to do, but he may just have done it.  Monte Poole of the Contra Costa Times says that despite Alex Smith’s modesty claiming this was just one more step, let’s face it, it was his moment and one that he deservedly could take bows on.  Don Banks of SI.com writes that Alex Smith, “ran out of town years ago”, stayed home and rallied his team to victory.  Jeffrey Chadiha of ESPN.com writes that San Fran was just the toughest team out there yesterday and it showed up in jarring hits that forced 5 turnovers for the Saints.  John DeShazier of the Times Picayune writes that this loss is going to hurt for a while for these Saints.  

Ladies and gentleman, I give you the game of the year and its not even close.  Let’s put this up there now in the top 10 greatest games ever played in the NFL.  It had everything you could ask for.  It had a great offense against a great defense.  It had a maligned QB seeking redemption.  It had a head coach looking for further validation that he is indeed the coach of the year.  It had a super team going for a ninth victory in a row.  It had the hits that will be played over and over again in those epic NFL Film highlight videos.  It had that five minute stretch in the final quarter that saw one huge call (the Alex Smith 3rd and 7 play which in my mind is one of the gutsiest calls you can make in that situation), one huge game breaking play (the Jimmy Graham catch and run and think about it this way: the guy had back spasms where he could barely move) and then Vernon Davis replying on the other end with two great plays to seal the win for the Niners.

I can’t begin to describe how much emotion was flowing through me during that game.  I was at my anniversary dinner with my wife and I’m sitting there almost choking on a T-Bone Steak (no homo), watching the game.  The owner of the shop is watching with me and keeps going its over three separate times when both teams traded punches.  I thought it was over when Brees hit Graham for that big play when Patrick Willis lost his footing and Graham turned and ran with the ball.  But there was too much time for (gulp) Alex Smith with 1:32 remaining and anyone who thought Alex Smith was going to finish that comeback had to be on meds.  Or a 49er homer.

As far as the rest of the game is concerned.  I can’t remember a game where one team hit the other harder and faster than the 49ers.  Every time Donte Whitner hit somebody there seemed to be chunks of the other player flying off him or he just unconscious.  The guy was hitting people like somebody slapped his momma in the stands before the game (stolen from Deion) and played like this guy.  The Niners were so fast limiting the ability of the Saints to run their screens that the Saints had to go north and south ONLY as opposed to using all parts of the field.  That’s what having Navarro Bowman and Patrick Willis can do for you when they are spying on guys like Sproles.  But when the Saints lost RB Pierre Thomas who was slipping tackles all last week against the Lions, I thought that the Niners had effectively eliminated their complement to Sproles.  I love Sproles but when the Saints were winning their Super Bowl it was due to Pierre Thomas’ own ability to shed tackles and be a tough run after the catch or run after the first guy gets their hand on him.  He’s so hard to stop and when the Saints got him on the field he was being laid out by Donte Whitner who hit him with a helmet to helmet and aside from the hit you knew something was wrong when Thomas just went limp while going down.  Those are the toughest hits to watch because its not about pain, because the guy can’t feel anything and you just hope that the guy gets up.

But on this day it was about Alex Smith.  Everyone will talk about Alex Smith’s amazing finish and about how he’s seeking redemption and not to jump on the bandwagon but has any guy been under more scrutiny?  We all knew coming into the league he was a smart kid having completed a bachelor’s in Econ in 3 years at Utah.  He was Urban Meyer’s last great QB prospect.  He had the pedigree heading in to the NFL but as most great college QB’s do he fell into a terrible situation.  The Niners have had five offensive Coordinators heading into this year.  He has been called out by the media, the fanbase who wished they took North Cali’s own Aaron Rodgers, and by former head coaches who either called him soft (Mike Nolan) or just never believed in him (Mike Singletary.

Enter John Harbaugh.  It takes a former maligned QB to know one and that connection has propelled this Niner team.  They had the defense but they never had an offense help out and that’s what happened.  If ever there was a game to show a microcosm of a team’s season it was yesterday.  The defense playing lights out for most of the game and just giving up one big play and needing their offense to come through, and them coming through was kind of a watershed moment for this team when you think about it.  The 49ers will be a great team for a few years.  It starts with Alex Smith who doesn’t make mistakes.  Who doesn’t beat himself.  A guy that follows the game plan and is athletic enough to make plays when the original one breaks down.  The bottom line is this: the San Francisco 49ers have made over the organization on the fly in a year.

That is the hallmark of this great coach.  I said before the season that perhaps Harbaugh left a year early from a plum Stanford job JUST to tank the season so he could get Andrew Luck with the number one overall pick.  I felt that in my heart of hearts, that would be the best situation for this team in the longterm and that Harbaugh had the job security to do that.  But of course what we got instead was a dominant defense, an All-Pro filled Special teams and an offense that controlled the clock built behind a good offensive line and a physical running back that runs hard behind his blockers.  No mention of their QB yet right?  Because he was a liability heading into this season but Harbaugh’s greatest job coaching was building back that quarterback from Utah.  Six years of naysaying and doubting had to be erased in order for Harbaugh to get Smith prepared to handle his job and what a remarkable job he’s done in such a short limited time.  That week they spent in the east coast when they had to travel two straight weeks was a blessing in disguise and one that Harbaugh used to unify the team.  Small things like that give you a sense of what kind of coach he is and how much he understands the nuances of his title.  Its not just about drawing up game plans, its about instilling in your team a sense of togetherness and pride.  Its not players that win games, its teams.  The 49ers beat Drew Brees yesterday and that’s all you need to know.

From a great team finish to a complete rout.  The Denver Broncos got blindsided by the New England Patriots yesterday in what was a mismatch from the moment the teams took the field.  Peter King of SI says that Tom Brady and the Patriots have never looked better.  Jackie MacMullan of ESPN writes that everyone was worshiping the wrong guy coming into the game.  Greg Bedard of the Boston Herald wrote that the Pats defense hadn’t played that well from beginning to end since they faced a fellow southpaw in Tyler Palko.  Woody Paige of the Denver Post writes that the wild ride of Tebow time came to a close because there was never anytime for Tebow to work his magic.  Forget the negativity of the loss says Dave Krieger of the Denver Post, the rebuilding process that was supposed to take years is way ahead of schedule.  

I’m not here to jump on everyone’s parade about this guy but let’s put things into perspective for everyone to understand how Tebow crazy this entire country had gotten.  We love a great story and that’s what Tebow was.  He was a crazy, improbable, out of the loop and out of left field kind of success that we weren’t ready for.  Our football sensibility tells us that Tim Tebow is not a good quarterback capable of doing the things he did over this NFL season and yet those who hold out belief and understand that sports can stop reality for a moment and have us seeing things that suspend our own understanding of things and believe in something magical know that anything was possible heading into Saturday night’s contest between the Pats and the Broncos.  Take for instance that the Patriots had a running two game losing streak.  The Pats secondary was a maligned group who could be taken advantage of.  The Broncos had this feel about them as riding a wave of something into their contest.  It was probable and I get all of that emotion.

But the reality set in early.  And often.  The Broncos couldn’t run.  And when they can’t run, we know they can’t pass.  And there was Tebow scrambling around like a chicken with his head cut off and trying to make something happen and one too many three and outs cost them against an offense that never stopped moving from the moment the opening kickoff got lofted into the cool air of Massachusetts.  Gilette Stadium was the arena in which Tim Tebow and all his Tebowmaniacs would get a lesson in Football 101.  NO QB that played with such an unconventional and simplistic offense could win in the playoffs against the best of competition and that’s what the Patriots were.

The Pats defense put the clamps on and held on tight to Tebow affording him no room, maintaining gaps and not giving him outside lanes.  Their secondary covered the limited options that they had.  Let’s be real, the Broncos offered a subpar receiving group that couldn’t possibly offer up any kind of contest to a former 3 time Super Bowl winning team.  Brady and Belichiek though were the major players in this game.

Two full weeks to rest and get their team playing sharper and install new wrinkles.  The Josh McDaniels from the Patriots returned in time to see the offense move with a rhythm and execute on a scale that hadn’t been seen before.  Aaron Hernandez as a running back?  Yessir.  Julian Edelman getting more and more snaps as a cornerback?  Sure why not.  Brady with the hurry up through much of the first half? Yep.  Six touchdowns later the Broncos had long thrown in the towel and were left wondering exactly what had been done to them.  I watched only portions of that game but never was there any doubt.  Even when Brady threw that interception.  He made a bad throw.  He knew it.  He also had enough confidence to know that he would NEVER give them another chance.  He was methodical and so dominating in a performance that made you think that the Patriots were conjuring up remnants of that 2007 offense that blitzed the league and gave defensive coordinators nightmares.

And trust me, with McDaniels back, the Patriots have gotten the right guy back at the right time to make it work.  They have an almost unguardable TE in Gronkowski.  They have the best slot receiver in football in Wes Welker.  They have an offensive line that’s relatively healthy.  They have a creative playcaller in Josh McDaniels.  They have a great QB and a great defensive minded head coach.  They have the elements to make another Super Bowl Run.  Watch out.  The Patriots are now the Patriots of their great teams from the earlier part of the milennia.  Big time QB play.  Solid defense.  Good offense.  Great game planning.  Watch out NFL.

As for the Broncos, look: you have a decent QB.  Next year will be super important and it will be interesting to see how the Broncos go about this offseason especially draft wise.  The Broncos aren’t trading up to take any QB’s.  But let’s say a kid like Russell Wilson falls to them in the first round (unlikely) or a Taylor Martinez (more likely in the third or fourth), why wouldn’t the Broncos take him and stash him away?  The Broncos need immediate help on the defensive end.  They need defensive tackles to stuff the middle.  They need help in the back end.  They need another pass rusher to help Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil who has taken a step back.  They need to get better playmakers.  But let’s say next year the Broncos don’t duplicate the magic carpet ride run they had this year which is a near certainty.  Remember, literally every team they faced had something go horribly wrong either due to injury or having already had a few guys injured, before they faced Tebow and had a lot of defensive coordinators not taking Tebow seriously.  That won’t happen next year.  Tebow won’t sneak up on anybody.  The team will see what they have in Tebow as a QB.  Let’s see what improvements Tebow makes.  Yes, the intangibles are out of the planet for this kid.  Yes, he will try his hardest to improve.  If nothing is improved and Tebow remains the same mechanically flawed QB he is today trust me the Broncos organization will scrap the Tebow Time t-shirts and send those to needy kids in Africa and chart ways to get a franchise QB.  The Broncos are a rebuilding project and yes, they are ahead of schedule.  But the question still remains: WHAT do we do with Tim Tebow?  The answer to that question will come next year.  Unless we’re in for another crazy season next year, hold on to your bottoms.

And now to today’s game.  Mike Lupica of Daily News writes that despite the similarities that people want to draw, this time beating the Packers at the Frozen Tundra will be far more difficult.  Stefan Bondy of the News writes that the Big Blue offensive line are out to be tougher Sunday than BJ Raji gives them credit for.  Mike Vaccaro of the Post writes that winning at Lambeau is as difficult as they come because of the history and fable surrounding the place.  Steve Serby of the Post writes that if the Giants are All In like they claim to be, they will write their own history.  Paul Schwartz says that if the Giants want to win today, replaying that Road Warrior mentality in their heads will be a good start.  Tom Rock of Newsday says despite Justin Tuck saying there’s nothing to gain from their last meeting on December 4th, there is plenty of material to be gained for their next showdown.  

Let’s manage to calm down all the hype and glamour out of the match up and let’s say this for the Giants: they are not the 2007 Giants.  They are the 2011 New York Giants.  A completely unique identity and entity unto themselves.  Fifteen players remain from the team that went on that improbable run in 07 and frankly I, like them, are tired of hearing the remarkable similarities in seasons.  We all need points of comparison to draw up some kind of response to everything and we all want to believe that THIS version of the New York Giants will duplicate that run but that would be an injustice to both THIS current squad and the group of men who marched into the sure-fire no doubt coronation of the greatest team ever, New England Patriots and decimated their dreams and sent Patriot fans packing as Super Bowl chumps.

Yes, that team deserves its credit and its OWN unique place in Giant and NFL lore and don’t deserve the injustice that’s been placed on them by the media over the last few weeks.  Comparing the two teams are like apples and oranges and we all know that using numbers we can conjure up any comparison we want and have anyone believing anything we want.  Yes, that 38-35 score is indicative of something.  But its only telling you what the score was on December 4th.  Not some harbinger of things to come today at the Frozen Tundra.  I believe what’s happening here is that a team is coming together.

Now, you all may be asking yourselves, wait is this the same guy who wouldn’t change his underwear or game day traditions because he had some remote belief that it ultimately mattered in the context of the Giant playoff run?  Yes.  I’m not saying I don’t believe in de ja vu.  I’m not saying that these events don’t bear a striking resemblance to the one from 07 and that having several players from that team on this one doesn’t make these comparisons apt.  I’m just saying that we should appreciate what 07 did and not overshadow what this team is doing currently by comparing the two.  They are two different teams with different identities on offense and newer leaders on defense.

I said this when it happened and I hold on to this one belief: what the 07 Giants did will stand the test of time and I am assured that I will never see a run like that EVER AGAIN.  But that’s not to say that this team can’t put together a run that could rival the one the 07 team did.  That’s not to say that the championship earned at the expense of a 18-0 team is any less credible if they do it again against a team that had a loss coming INTO the Super Bowl.  All I’m saying is that let’s leave the comparisons at home because it would only be right for both teams.  MMkay?

Moving on, here are my final thoughts on this game before it happens:  The Giants must run the ball and rush the passer.  They can pass on this team but if the Packers only have to defend the pass they have the corners to make game changing plays that can eventually cost the team the victory.  Erase the Clay Mathews pick six and the Giants win that game 35-31.  The fact is, the Giants held the ball for only 26 minutes and allowed Aaron Rodgers to hold the ball for 34 minutes and no matter how good your defensive line is, in those 7 minutes that offense can score two- three touchdowns in that time.  The Giants must control the clock and take their chances deep.  Drawing in their linebackers, who they have healthy today will be key.  If AJ Hawk and Desmond Bishop aren’t in coverage and the Giants can  get their running game going and keeping Rodgers on the sideline, and their pass rush constantly gets the Pack off the field because of hurried throws and bad decision making, the Giants can win.  But it won’t be easy.  Not against Aaron Rodgers who seemingly performs under ANY kind of condition given to him.  Want him to run wtih the ball? Sure.  He was the leading rusher in the game.  He, like Alex Smith won’t beat himself.  He wont give you a game.  You have to beat the Packers square.  So what the Giants need is a great game from Eli (or a continuation from last week minus the safety), and a great game from their front four who need to play lights out.  The Packers have a good offensive line but Chad Clifton and Josh Sitton haven’t played for quite some time and only got reps in Week 17 after missing chunks of the regular season.  Bryan Bulaga is hurt.  That banged up front is going against a defensive line that is aching to continue their great stretch.  IF the Packers front keeps the Giant pass rush at bay it will be a long day.  Expect the Pack to go two tight end a lot and having them chip and giving Rodgers 3 to five step drops early and get their guys running slants.  They will run into the middle of the defense because they know that the Giants best attribute is speed and those ends can cover the run.  They will run off tackle every once in a while but doing that at Jason Pierre Paul will be disastrous and I expect the Pack to stay away from his side.  They want Rodgers sitting in the pocket.  In my opinion the Giants MUST win the battle up the middle.  THEY MUST have Chris Canty, Justin Tuck win their matchups against the guards.  They MUST have Mathias Kiwanuka be able to come right over the middle and go after Rodgers and have him running.  If they win the interior battle, I have no doubt they can win the outside battles against the two tackles.  Osi’s speed and JPP’s overall play are excellent.

Here’s where I think the Giants may have problems.  The Pack may play hurry up depending on personnel.  They may run the ball against the Nascar package (four defensive ends) if they get it and when they see Osi off the field, they may hurry up to keep the big guys Canty/Rocky Bernard in the game and wear them down.  JPP is going to see a majority of the snaps as is Tuck and Canty.  A pristine Giant game has Osi playing between 40-50 offensive snaps and coming off either end.  I don’t think the Giants can be effective with JPP coming as a speed rusher by standing up.  They must attack him as as down lineman.

The matchups for the Giants are out there.  The Giants have the offensive weapons to light up the scoreboard and must lean on their strengths.  They are a passing offense.  But I do think they MUST run the football effectively.  They may not need 170 yards today but they need Brandon Jacobs running over people and Ahmad Bradshaw catching passes out of the backfield.  They MUST win time of possession handily.  Even then, if they don’t score touchdowns it won’t matter.  If the Giants can get off to a fast start and have the ball at the end of the game, which I think will be a close game they can win.  OTHERWISE, Aaron Rodgers will torch them.

If the Giants don’t get enough of a pass rush, or the Giants can run the ball or you give Aaron Rodgers even a three minute advantage in possession time, you’re asking for trouble.  He does NOT get rattled under pressure.  He won’t beat himself by forcing passes into tight coverage.  He has really good receivers who have a very good relationship with him that can understand when to abandon a route so that he can move the ball forward.  Unlike the Saints who you know are looking for the deep ball, the Packers are more than happy to just hit short passes and move the chains.  They can live either way.  The fact is, this Packer team coming in will play lights out for their head coach who lost his son.  The Giants must remember that.  Absorb the early blow and go out and punch them in the mouth and then knock the Pack out.

Its going to be close and that’s all I’m going to say on that.

 

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Daily Rounds 1/4/2012

And so it went in the NFL as more and more retentions and dismissals were announced.  Dean Spanos, owner of the San Diego Chargers, announced that GM AJ Smith and head coach Norv Turner would be returning for the 2012 season but according to San Diego Union Tribune reporter Kevin Acee, both know that if they don’t make the playoffs in 2012, they will not get a similar vote of confidence from the owner Spanos.  Acee went on to write that much of this falls on AJ Smith, the GM and he knows it.  Meanwhile, Andy Reid was given a vote of confidence by the Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie.  Les Bowen of the Philly Daily News said that despite all the harsh tone and sentiment, Jeff Lurie expressed confidence in Andy Reid, albeit in a limited time frame.   Despite the defense’s inability to stop many people, Paul Domowitch of the Daily News says that Andy Reid put Juan Castillo in a pretty uncomfortable situation and so he shouldn’t be left out to dry by Reid whatever decision he makes on the defensive coordinator.  Dan Graziano of ESPN.com says that the Eagle owner used the word unacceptable so much that bringing back Reid made the word meaningless.  The Bears let go of GM Jerry Angelo and Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune writes that it was thanks to an abysmal history of draft selecting that led to the former scout’s dismissal from the top job in all of Chi-town football land.  Dan Pompei of the Tribune writes that forcing Lovie Smith on the new GM is a recipe for disaster.  Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun Times writes that it was not enough talent as say a Green Bay or a Detroit that ultimately led to the dismissal of Jerry Angelo.  Jon Greenberg of ESPNChicago.com says that the Bears made the right moves and threw out some names since the Bears are in the solution business.  Peter King of SI.com weighs in on all topics including how the dominoes may fall once the dust settles.  

Is that enough for you?  A day after the Rams fired Bill Devaney and Steve Spagnuolo and Raheem Morris was sent packing in Tampa, a few more jobs opened up in NFL offices and a few quite surprisingly stayed shut.  I want to focus on them specifically so let’s run them down one by one:

Chargers:  The biggest surprise of the day was that Norv Turner will wake up this morning as the head coach of the San Diego Chargers.  If you hear talent evaluators and scouts talk about the job that AJ Smith has done in building the Chargers from perennial doormats to one of the elite teams, you’d think this team won a few championships.  Yet that’s the chatter among folks in the know:  the talent is there to win it all.  And that would lead one to believe that its the coach’s fault.  Right?  Wrong.  Apparently Norv has earned ONE FINAL shot at winning a new contract and it doesn’t necessarily mean winning a championship.  The Chargers are a very good team and over the final month showed that by playing well.  The regular season finale showed everything you needed to about the Chargers: their offense was clicking and yet the Raiders still had a chance in the end to win it.  The biggest problem the Chargers have is their head coach.  I’ve always felt that Norv Turner running an offense and Norv running a team are two totally different people and one easily out paces the other.  Some guys just can’t do the head coaching thing and it doesn’t take anything away from the offensive genius that Norv has, I’m just saying that perhaps the man would be better served wearing just that one hat than say the coach’s hat too.

Eagles: As surprising as the Chargers retention of Smith and Norv was, I wasn’t surprised by Andy Reid being given one more chance.  The shortened training season and programs limited the ability of Juan Castillo to install his defense and for Jim Washburn to install his wide 9 scheme.  But look at the raw numbers and the final 6 weeks and a different Eagles team started to emerge.  A team more confident and a team capable of scoring and playing with anyone.  Yes, the competition wasn’t all that but a team sometimes just needs to build confidence and say the Giants lost to the Jets and then the Cowboys beat the Giants in week 17, the Eagles would be hosting a playoff game.  Yes, as awful as that team played throughout the first 2 months of the season the Eagles still had a glimmer of hope heading into the final two weeks.  But there was just too much “unacceptable”-ness that couldn’t be ignored.  Reid’s decision to make Castillo, a former offensive line coach into a defensive coordinator was a dubious one.  The organization built a championship caliber defense to go with its high octane offense but I kept telling people that the offensive line was going to be a problem and it led to Vick getting injured and spending a ton of time on the side line.  The Eagles were plagued by mental errors and that falls on the coach’s lap.  Most of his decisions back fired on him during this season where all the expectations were that he not only make it to the playoffs but have a deep run.  None of that materialized.  Even in a very mediocre year for the NFC East, the Eagles with all that talent couldn’t win the division which is an upset in it of itself.  The next order of business will be to figure out what to do with Juan.  Hist last few games have been impressive and perhaps giving him a full offseason to help his players understand the scheme and the coverages may be of use.  BUT, Steve Spagnuolo, the former Eagles defensive coach is out there and there’s a rumbling among Eagle fans to retain him as the defensive coordinator a post he wanted a few years ago but was apparently held back by Reid which led to some tense times in Eagle land and eventually led to his emergence in New York as a Giant and a Super Bowl trophy.  The Eagles have plenty of tough decisions to make but make no mistake, the real unacceptable part will be this time next year if the Eagles are again left out of the dance, and Reid is looking for a lifeline: do NOT expect it from Jeff Lurie.

Bears: I agree with Dan Pompei- its tough to assume that the new GM and Lovie Smith will get along but there’s no denying that had Matt Forte and Jay Cutler NOT gone down with injuries the Bears would’ve been in the thick of things.  They were 7-3 and then Cutler and Forte went down.  I see them winning at minimum two of the games they lost.  They definitely beat the Broncos and they definitely beat the Chiefs.  That’s a 10-6 season and a wild card berth.  There were certainly holes and as Peter King pointed at the offensive line as a mystery that Jerry Angelo could never solve.  His draft record was poor and aside from Matt Forte, he didn’t draft a game changing star since trading for Jay Cutler.  But the biggest black mark was that Sam Hurd signing.  I don’t agree with it but Hurd’s arrest and charges and the fact that Angelo was accused of not doing a thorough background check may have been his undoing.  Bringing too much negative publicity may have been the final straw and there are several personnel moves that make you scratch your head.  That coupled with the fact that the Lions and Packers are teams that have been built from within and have the ability to have sustained excellence the Bears HAD to make a move to get on the boat of doing the same and bringing in a person who can draft well and help to build the core of the Bears from within.  That I feel was the biggest dilemma for the Bears who, like the Colts have masked a lot of their problems through scheme (Mike Martz also got the door) and great QB play.  The Bears had a decent team and aside from those two injuries to their most prominent offensive pieces, the Bears had very little shot of having a run with Caleb Hanie.  Lovie’s refusal to sit Hanie though was kind of odd and could’ve been the catalyst for his own firing.  Donovan McNabb may have helped the Bears a bit though even he would’ve been a long shot to cure the Bears considering their offensive line was just NOT any good.

Then there’s the decision that will REALLY make this offseason interesting.  The Indianapolis Colts fired Bill and Chris Polian Monday and owner Jim Irsay is setting the tone for a rebuilding year.  If that’s the case the Indianapolis Star’s Bob Kravitz says that means Andrew Luck will be the Colts QB in 2012 and Peyton Manning will be elsewhere.  Alex Marvez of FoxSports says that the best case scenario for the Colts would be that Peyton Manning’s neck isn’t healthy and it makes it easy for the organization to cut ties with the future hall of famer.  If not, there’s a major decision in the hands of a new GM.  Judy Batista of the New York Times says that the change was more of a cultural change as the Polians seemed to be outshining even the head coach Jim Caldwell who was spared the axing.  The decision on Caldwell will rest with the new GM.  

The Peyton Manning decision will be the most interesting personnel decision made by any one team that I can remember.  Imagine a QB with two or three more years of elite level at the quarterback position hitting the open market for teams to take.  Let’s take a look at the 12 teams that made the playoffs this year.  Out of the 12, 6 of them could use an upgrade immediately.  Imagine the Ravens with Peyton at the helm.  Imagine the 49ers with Peyton under center.  The Broncos may have Tebow magic but Peyton Manning could deliver them victories.  The Texans with Manning passing to Andre Johnson?  That’s Super Bowl worthy.  Then you open him up to owners like Daniel Snyder who has already said he would hand Peyton a blank check and let’s be real, he would and give him anything he wants.

But what about his legacy as a Colt?  In my estimation it wouldn’t suffer.  Look, this is a part of the business of football.  Teams are better off running superstars out of town a year early than a year late because of the propensity of injury in this sport.  The QB position especially is difficult.  Unfortunately the Colts won’t even be able to take advantage of having Peyton in the line up.  The Colts have until March 1st to make a decision on Peyton.  That’s the day that he’s owed a huge roster bonus upwards of $20 million.  His salary cap number will be a ridiculous $28 million which would be at the very least 1/6th of the teams’ cap number making it impossible to make additional roster changes.  The decision with the head is to finally cut Peyton Manning though it sounds harsh.  Its the right move for the organization that needs to look to its future and by firing the Polians they did just that.  We dont know what the Polians would’ve done had they been in charge of making that decision but Jim Irsay paved the way for a change.  Its something that had to be done.

Let’s not think that by any measure this is an easy decision.  Yes, Peyton’s neck surgeries the last few years are a troubling trend.  Yes, he’s getting older.  But his absence showed you how absolutely top heavy this team is in terms of production and play.  Without Peyton they are a doormat, a 2-14 disaster.  Its a result of bad drafting that has left this team woefully thin at several positions.  The Colts need to move forward and regardless of where you are as a fan, the right move is to release Peyton Manning so the Colts can build this team up the right way and give Andrew Luck a chance in the coming years to lead a good team.  If he’s as advertised if you build a solid offensive line, and get some more weapons along side Pierre Garcon (Reggie Wayne is most likely leaving and hopefully Austin Collie stops being concussed) the Colts can rebuild this team back in a division with the Texans who always have one reason or another why they can’t run away with the division.  Then there’s the Jags who are in rebuilding mode and are years away without a franchise QB at all.  Then there’s the Titans who are the second or third best team in the division depending solely on Indy’s play.  Again, this decision WILL NOT be easy but its necessary that the Colts look to the future and NOT hold on to the past.

Meanwhile the local football team in the playoffs, the Giants are looking at their battle tested schedule and wondering if they could take the 49ers and the Packers to the brink, why can’t they make a run?  Ralph Vacchiano of the Daily News gets the players pulse.  Tom Rock of Newsday says that Antrell Rolle after giving props to Tom Coughlin continued the respect train and it stopped at the doorstep of fellow safety Deon Grant who sat him down and got him to be himself.  Osi Umeniyora played Sunday but suffered a setback on the high ankle sprain.  While he’s expected to miss some practice time do not expect him to miss the first playoff game in Metlife Stadium.  Mike Vaccaro says that the Giants can turn the volume up and bring some life to Metlife Stadium.  Paul Schwartz of the New York Post says that Giant fans shouldn’t compare any run the Giants may have with the one in 2007.  

Its interesting that Mike Vaccaro brings that up because the Giants in 2007 relied on a road reliable team to cruise into the Super Bowl.  The Giants rallying cry was road warriors and its been over 10 years since the Giants had a home playoff win so the Giants are overdue.  Its also interesting that the similarities between eerie events happening that year and the events of this year.  The Giants would love this team to author a similar ending and surely there is no super duper team that has no weaknesses that it would be the height of improbability that the Giants walk into their home this season and win BUT the Giants have a few glaring differences.  That team’s offensive line and running game were stout, both of which are concerns heading into the playoffs.

The Giants would have a similar up hill climb with the Saints being a very difficult task since the Giants would likely have to face them in the SuperDome where they are 8-0 this season and they are 10-0 in domes overall.  The Giants however have a passing attack which features Victor Cruz.  My biggest key going into the Falcon game will be how Nicks handles it.  Nicks is the unquestioned number one regardless of the feel good story that Cruz is.  Nicks is the move the chains/Plaxico guy who can make big catches and having both of them going at the same time would do wonders for this team and afford HUGE holes for the offensive line to work with.

The Giants need the defensive line to play lights out over the next month in order to have any chance to move forward.  If they don’t play well the secondary will get lit up.  Not a maybe, it WILL get lit up.  The pressure is on the defensive line to cause pressure and force mistakes.  The Giants will need all the help they can get.

Tyler Kepner of the New York Times believes that the Yankees are saving their cash to spend big next winter when guys like Matt Cain and Cole Hamels may wind up as free agents.  

The name to keep in mind is Matt Cain.  Cole Hamels will be retained by the Phillies barring some major malfunction on the organization’s thinking.  The Phillies have a ton of money tied up in Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay (two worthwile contracts even at THAT price), but not retaining your home grown under 30 ace like pitcher would be the height of stupidity and the antithesis of how the Phillies have operated under Ruben Amaro Jr.  Cain however remains with the Giants, a team who will have to pay HUGE bucks to Tim Lincecum and will try to tie up Buster Posey (if they are smart) and I dont know where they are willing to go payroll wise but they would have to crack the $100 million barrier to afford both and I dont know that the Giants want to sustain that kind of payroll for multiple seasons which will eventually be what they have to do in order to keep the nucleus together.  Look, the Yankees were smart NOT to invite CJ Wilson to their facility for a try out.  Its clear the Yankees do NOT want to be used to drive up his price EVEN if it benefits them by making a fellow contender spend more but the Yankees are only going to gain an ace by trade.  My guess is that the Yankees somehow pry Felix Hernandez loose from the Mariners UNLESS Prince Fielder decides to sign in Seattle.  Seattle CAN operate as a big market club but are being built through the minor leagues by Jeff Zdiruneck.

My guess is that the Nationals sign Prince Fielder.  The Mariners trade Felix to the Yankees  for multiple pieces (start with Jesus Montero AND Dellin Betances and perhaps Gaby Sanchez) which IS the right move for both teams and the Yankees STILL don’t win a world series.  Look, I’m no Mayan but I’d be lying if I told you I thought the Yankees can expect to find another Freddy Garcia AND Bartolo Colon to offset their lack of pitching depth.  You know what you got in CC Sabathia (workhorse ace) and in AJ Burnett (5.00 ERA) and at some point in time the Yankees can expect Mariano to drop off in production though I would NEVER bet against the greatest closer in the history of the position.  I expect a slightly down year from Curtis Granderson.  I expect Robinson Cano to have an MVP year next year.  I expect the slow regression of the captain and Alex Rodriguez to continue and for Manny Banuelos to have a decent rookie campaign.  I even predict he makes the team from the outset of the season.

Finally, before quitting the blog for the day, Lynn Zinser of the New York Times talks about the repercussions for Santonio Holmes quitting on his team.  Now that Rex Ryan has been shut up for good, everyone else is doing the talking and its not complementary.  Mike Lupica of the Daily News calls Rex and the Jets the joke.  Brian Costello of the Post says that Mark Sanchez during an interview with 1050 ESPN took full responsibility for trying to make things right with Santonio Holmes.  Roderick Boone of Newsday said that Rex vowed to spend more time with the offense.  

Lynn hit the nail right on the head.  Often times when players are making certain decisions during the heat of the battle they rarely think about its consequences.  They give in to their emotions and let them  take control.  Holmes wanted the football.  He didn’t get it.  He pouted.  But the setting for that was the problem.  The season was on the line and as it turns out, the Jets COULD HAVE made the playoffs had Holmes kept his head in the game and made plays to help the Jets win the game.  BUT, what can’t be ignored is that Holmes criticisms have some merit.  The offense has stunk for some time now but at least over the last two years when the Jets went on extended runs they had some sort of identity:  they were a run-oriented offense.  They went away from that slowly with Holmes’ acquisition and Plax this year but to do that in addition to cutting several veterans who would’ve provided leadership in the locker room was a recipe for disaster.  Add that to the fact that the training camps were cut short by the lockout and the team had very little time to get acclimated to the new system the Jets were setting themselves up.  By the time they tried to revert back it was too late.  They had squandered too many games and another year out of a great defense.  The Jets face a tough question but my choice would be to keep Santonio.  The Jets need to bring in a QB to really challenge Sanchez.  You want to see your franchise guy man up and win a QB competition straight up which is why throwing money at Matt Flynn is a good idea.  Of course if Peyton Manning comes into play you could make a run but with the Jets current cap situation he would have to take a lesser deal to come to the Jets though he may want to do that with how close the Jets are and the chance at playing Tom Brady twice a year.  But who knows, right now Mark Sanchez has to do what he can to reclaim that locker room because he’s NOT a leader that can voice his opinions.  Santonio had NO RESPECT for him and thus missed meetings that he tried to set up.  That kind of insubordination deserves a huge presence by Rex who needs to give up this idea and belief that he can coach anybody and focus on putting together a good team not necessarily the most talented one.

The Jets were once a team and I think most players would love to play for a coach like Rex Ryan who wears his emotions on his sleeve but Rex needs to take a step back and assess exactly what went wrong.  My opinion?  Get rid of Schotty if you are going in a different direction at the QB.  IF you get Peyton ax Schotty and get a decent offensive coordinator to take his place.  I would pray that Schottenheimer gets the Jaguars job which is apparently open.  The fact is, the Jets need help in the locker room which wasn’t the case until this year.  Either way, they want their players to quit the baby act and not quit on themselves.

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Daily Rounds 12/12/2011

First off let me apologize for yesterday’s second part not being put up.  Unfortunately technology let me down and erased my entire 2200 word post as I was finishing it up.   Not too proud of that but hey, in this business you move on to the next one and here we are.  More NBA.  More player movement.  More on the Ryan Braun positive test front.  But first we begin with football and boy is there a lot to talk about.

In a must win game that was essentially for the season and keeping their playoff hopes alive.  The Giants were down 34-22 with 5:41 left in the game.  The Giants scored two touchdowns and a two point conversion to go ahead 37-34 with :46 left.  Romo helped drive the Cowboys the length of the field setting up Dan Bailey for a game tying field goal.  He had hit two from 40+ deep already in the game.  He kicked it, and it went through….only, Tom Coughlin called the timeout prior to the kick and so the Boys had to kick it again.  Wouldn’t you know it, Jason Pierre Paul gets his long arms on the ball on the second kick and the Giants end up winning the game 37-34.  Mike Vacarro says JPP deserves a lot of the credit for this win.  Tom Rock of Newsday says its no wonder Brandon Jacobs had his best game of the season against the Cowboys: he hates them.  Randy Galloway of the Fort Worth Star Telegram found out that not even Tony Romo’s 4 TD 0 INT game could save the Cowboys from its porous defense.  

Forget arm chair analysis.  Forget Monday Morning QB.  The Cowboys AND the Giants defense were clueless and giving up yards in bunches.  Eli Manning threw for 400 yards.  Romo threw for 321.  Eli threw for 2 TD’s and 1 INT, and Romo threw 4 TD’s and 0 Int. The Giants rushing game had 110 yards, and the Cowboys had 139.  The Boys gave up 510 yards and the Giants gave up 444 yards.  This was not for defensive purists.  Two times you saw the Giants and Cowboys with defensive lapses leaving receivers wide, wide, wiiiiide open.  But when both defenses needed plays only ONE guy from either side stood out and he wore Giants blue Sunday.

Jason Pierre Paul was a man amongst boys yesterday in so many ways.  Let’s count how many game changing plays he had ok?  He had a safety on Tony Romo.  He had two sacks that forced the Cowboys to punt on both occasions.  Six tackles including a critical stop on second down on Felix Jones which forced the Cowboys into a critical third down.  His pressure on that next play made Romo throw a hurried pass that JUST, and I mean JUST miss Miles Austin.  When I tell you that the game is over if Austin catches that pass, I mean it, he was led perfectly, he had four yards on Aaron Ross and if he catches it, he’s gone.  Touchdown.  Game.  Season.

But the pass dropped two yards in front of Austin’s outstretched arm because of Romo being hurried.  Because of JPP’s pressure.  Then on the game tying field goal, after icing the kicker, JPP comes right through the middle and blocks the FG attempt.  What an amazing play.  What an amazing game.  What an amazing player.

On the same field with Justin Tuck, DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, the best player on the field was a young second year player who JUST started playing the game five years ago.  Not professionally, I mean started playing the game of football.  He’s doing this all from pure physical talent.  Once he learns scheme and the little tricks that all the greats know, this kid is going to be among the best in all of football, earning annual trips to Hawaii.  If he didn’t earn it with yesterdays game alone, I dont know what you have to do, to get it.

Most of the narrative this morning will be on Eli’s come from behind heroics as it should be.  The Giants have had little to no running game.  The Giants defense has given up points in bunches.  The stress on Eli to make plays and correct decisions has gone way up this year and he’s responded with the kind of game that you didn’t expect as a Giant fan.  Why?  Because you’ve seen the throws like the one that got intercepted by Sean Lee, the ones that leave you scratching your head and wondering WHAT Eli saw.  Some of the playcalling was questionable as well.  How many times did they run that draw play to little to NO success?  But Eli made some terrific throws including on a 3rd and1 in the fourth quarter, he lofts a pass off his back foot (traditionally a troublesome thing for ANY Giant fan and had me screaming NO ELI NOOOO) which make its way to Victor Cruz who somehow, someway knows where to be when Manning needs him to be there.  I love the trust that he has in his receivers.  He’s been working Cruz into the game plan.  He goes to Manningham, and trusts him even after what could’ve been a critical drop.  Anyone miss Kevin Boss?  No, because Eli has built up Jake Ballard in much the same way.  Then there’s Hakeem Nicks who the Giants know is an elite receiver.  Eli picks and chooses when he goes to Nicks and you can see if he’s got one on one matchups with Nicks the ball is going to be up there and will find his way to him.  There’s a built in trust there and that’s what elite quarterbacks do.  No need to get into that conversation right?  I mean we can put that one to bed can’t we?  Ok good.

Now comes the bad.  Aaron Ross is a liability on the secondary.  Romo knew exactly WHO to pick on when it came to crunch time.  Prince Amukamara is still a liability.  He has the speed to keep up with fast receivers but he doesn’t have the scheme down yet.  Antrell Rolle and Deon Grant are both better when they are in the box making plays.  The Giants were missing Kenny Phillips who by definition is their best coverage safety.  But he’s their ONLY coverage guy in that group and he’s lost a lot of his elite speed thanks to a chronic Knee arthritis which will always have him lacking that speed.  The Giants front line need to do a better job on the run.  The Cowboys lost DeMarco Murray but Felix Jones, who historically has played the Giants VERY WELL, ran the ball up and down the field on them with nothing stopping him.  The Giants were not playing the run well at all much of the game and that’s a weak area.  They are so focused on rushing the passer that they open up lanes for runners and that’s problematic for this team.  They aren’t disciplined in their gaps and constantly leave gaping holes.  Let’s not congratulate the running game yet.  We’ve yet to see Brandon Jacobs run with that kind of purpose, though to the offensive line’s credit, a much maligned group, they opened up HUGE holes and Jacobs obliged to run through those lanes, but it was no surprise it was against the Cowboys, whom he HATES.  If you need any evidence you can just watch that video of his celebration.

It was funny watching that game because the Cowboys and Giants have so many similar issues its like looking in the mirror.  Its no wonder that both have the same record and have the same question marks moving forward.  Victory masks alot of the bad as Trent Dilfer said in the post game and that’s true.  Romo converts that third down with 2:12 remaining in the game and its all over.  JPP doesn’t make the block then we’re headed to overtime and who knows what happens there?  Either way, the Giants AND Cowboys have much to improve upon if they have any dreams of making a run in the playoffs.

Knowing they have to win out, the Jets can rest a little bit easier this morning as they got some help and now control their own fate.  The Jets bludgeoned the Chiefs 37-10 yesterday in what was their most convincing win of the season, next to that Jags game in week 2.  Mark Cannizaro of the Post says that Rex’s message was loud and clear.  Manish Mehta though reported after the game that Jim Leonhard was lost for the season with a knee injury marking the second consecutive season in which the very important member of their defensive secondary goes down.  

The Jets were comfortably out in front by the fourth quarter and yet for some reason Mark Sanchez was still in the game.  These are the moments where Rex scares me.  You have to know to TAKE HIM OUT.   The Jets also, opened the game by having the wrong personnel grouping and had to call a very embarassing timeout, six seconds into the game.  Something I had never seen before.

Those were the TWO negative things I took from that game.  The Jets played unbelivably.  The Chiefs had 4 yards in the first half.  Total.  Yep, you read it right.  The crazyness of that statement can’t be overstated.  The Jets defense was confident they would have their way with the Chiefs and they played that way and were able to win the game in the first half scoring 28 points, the first time they’ve done that in about 5 years.

The best part of this game?  Shonn Greene rushed for 129yards.  The Jets are undefeated when he goes over 100 yards which tells you that when Greene is going, the Jets are rolling.  He looks stronger and healthier than I’ve seen him all season and he seems to be getting better as the season wears on which bodes well for the Jets.  They are going to rely heavily on that running game much like they did for the last two post seasons and will depend on Greene to get those hard fought yards.  In the playoffs the Jets face rush defenses of the Steelers and Ravens who don’t give you yards, they give up inches.  Those are the times when the offensive line has to man up and right now they are manning up for the Jets.  Wayne Hunter had his best game of the season in my opinion.  Looks like Mangold is fully healthy and the Jets seem to be getting more conservative in their playcalling and working their offense through the running game.  Everybody knows about their passing weapons, once the running game gets rolling, those receivers will look MUCH more open.

Yes, Tim Tebow did it again.  Down 10 with more than 6 minutes left in the game, he drove them  the length of the field and got a touchdown.  Then a huge running gaffe by Marion Barber to get out of bounds which conserved time for the Broncos set Tebow up and Matt Prater made a 59 yard field goal.  Woody Paige of the Denver Post says that God’s plan continues.  The magic of Tim Tebow continues to grow, and its in Denver’s locker room where they believe they can’t lose says Mark Kiszla.  Want debate?  Here’s Frank Bruni of the New York Times wondering if God can win games and Chuck Klosterman of Grantland.com takes a look at the people who hate Tim Tebow.  

We’d like to believe that sports statistics can tell you a reason for everything.  Every stat purist, which is the in thing now in sports, and new stat purist believes that the numbers don’t lie. In fact ESPN has a show everyday with that moniker and in 99 out of 100 cases that’s true.  Meet the 1 case in which it isn’t.

Tim Tebow is THE most polarizing athlete of our generation.  Why?  Because he challenges our perception of everything we know to be true.  A QB with his mechanics CAN NOT succeed.  That’s what we’ve been told as ardent football fans.  3-16 through three quarters?  Overthrowing receivers by five yards?  Running a college style offense because your coach doesn’t really believe in you?  The critics of Tebow are many and they are all based on reason.

We can’t find a reason to believe he’s going to be successful.  But how to explain those fourth quarters?  You can’t.  You can’t explain why Marion Barber steps out of bounds.  You can’t put into numbers how you absolutely knew heading into overtime that Chicago had absolutely NO CHANCE of winning that game.  You can’t put into words why you felt confident in Matt Prater hitting that 59 yard field goal.  You can’t tell people why you knew that Barber was going to fumble that ball when they were in field goal territory already.  If you saw that play, if Barber breaks free that tackle which he was close to doing, he’s going to the house.  Done.

But the Broncos believe in Tebow.  The world believes in Tim Tebow.  Somehow receivers get open in the flat and get to go out of bounds.  The Red Sea opens up and pushes these players to play harder than they ever have.  That catch by DeMayrius Thomas was unbelievable.  There are no numbers that do this man justice.  There’s only the result on the field.  7-1 record.  Six straight victories.  Another fourth quarter comeback.  Look at John Elway.  During the first five weeks of this he was firmly against the Tebow momentum that was building.  These last three he’s been firmly aboard.  He’s hi-fiving and smiling and wondering exactly what he did to deserve this fate.  You can’t explain to anyone exactly what is going on with Tim Tebow, but what you can do is say you’re having a great time doing it.

Will Carroll of SI.com and author of the book “Juiced” explains in wonderful detail why the Ryan Braun positive dope testing must be taken with a grain of salt. 

Sunday, when everyone found out the usual statement came out from the Braun/Brewer camp: be careful to judge.  As Will explains, the positive sampling could’ve just been a trigger as part of  the B testing.  We must know if the A testing had a positive test to make the report even true.  As he explains an “A” test positive would trigger further, deeper look at “B” testing which would then be unequivocal.  There were reports coming out that Braun’s tests were OFF THE CHARTS positive which would be damning to him.  Alarming for the reigning MVP.  Braun’s reputation is basically smoked if the aggressive appeal that his camp is preparing doesn’t go through.

But in the court of public opinion, its over.  They have decided.  Braun is guilty.  And no matter what comes out next, even a sliver of doubt will hover over his career.  Its sad that a mistake could’ve cost him this.  Putting supplements that even he had no idea what was inside of them, into his body was a bad idea and may have cost him his reputation.  Its sad, but unfortunately in today’s day and age, an initial positive is a HUGE permanent negative.

On the heels of this morning’s news that the Clippers have submitted a multiplayer deal to the league with the Hornets in exchange for Chris Paul, Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN writes that fate is changing in Clipper land but it all depends on what the Clips can stomach in a deal and if Paul will opt in on an extension for one more season.  The Lakers meanwhile completed their deal to send Lamar Odom to the Mavs, but the compensation was interesting and something that made Kobe VERY unhappy according to Mike Breshnahan of the LA Times.    Kevin Ding is still wondering why they traded Lamar Odom, oh wait that’s right, its the money.  Meanwhile in Orlando, Dwight Howard appears to be pulling a power move and he isnt happy that his suggestions weren’t heard according to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel.

I’ve held on to the belief that the Clippers HAD to make a move.  For either Dwight OR CP3.  For the sake of keeping Blake long term they had to prove they were serious.  They are.  Oh boy they are.  This deal that includes PG Eric Bledsoe, former All Star Center Chris Kaman, Al Farooq Aminu, and most importantly the unprotected first round pick of the Minny-Ha-Ha Timberwolves as Peter Vecsey lovingly calls them is a deal that NEEDS to be made.  Of course the caveat and catch here is that CP3 opts into his final year.  That’s the deal breaker and we’ll see how badly CP3 wants to leave and how much he’s in love with Southern California and the obviously talented young nucleus of the Clippers who on promise alone offer more than the Lakers ever did.  The Lakers offer a legacy, star power and tradition.  The Clippers meanwhile have a history of being morbid and terrible.  A history that this team can change and that has to be alluring for any competitive person.  Unless you’re Lebron James and you just decide to bolt your hometown who’s been sick for ANY kind of title since the Paul Brown days.  But I digress.

The Dwight Howard situation seems teneable.  He wants to go to New Jersey.  Go figure.  But the Lakers pulled a move to get a first round pick and a trade exception which would allow them to swallow a contract of say a Hedo Turkoglou.  Now its on Otis Smith’s lap.  The offer of Brook Lopez and two first rounders or Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and a first round pick for Dwight and Hedo’s bad contract.  I dont know that the Lakers automatically send both but its possible now that Gasol and Bynum know they are expendable in the Laker’s eyes.  IF the Lakers don’t do this trade and wind up with them on the court, trust me when I say this will come back to bite them in the ass.

Phil Jackson famously punched Gasol in the chest, openly questioning his heart without ever uttering a word.  Now Gasol is going to have to man up and realize that this is JUST a business.  An interesting option that was opened up by the Chicago Tribune yesterday is the chance that the Bulls tell the Magic to pick any grouping of players not named Derrick Rose.  Would Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and a first round pick be enticing enough?  Would they have to include Omer Asik?  Probably.  But if you’re the Bulls, don’t you do that trade?  There are rumblings that Dwight wouldn’t resign there so there is that problem.  Without any assurance of that happening how can the Bulls ever truly think they could keep him.

Also the problem with Howard’s request to move to Brooklyn via New Jersey, is that Deron Williams has openly stated he plans on opting out and testing free agency.  Suitors like his hometown Mavs will have cap space now to pursue him and that would be a very enticing option for Deron.  Why would Dwight go to New Jersey knowing that there’s a chance that they don’t resign Deron?  Which means that Dwight will be a free agent at the end of the year.

My prediction?  Dwight doesn’t get traded.  Lakers DO trade Pau Gasol for picks, young players and cap relief and try to win with Kobe and Bynum (no chance of that happening) and then reload next summer.  Dwight would love to come to LA as most predict but who knows what can happen.  What I do know is that the Clippers NEED to do something to combat their current legacy which stands as a major roadblock against them.

Its wait and see time.

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Giants Postgame Reax!

I know what you’re going to tell me.  Don’t buy into just one victory.  Its still early.  Only half the season has been played.  I get all that.  And yet.  I want to yell and scream at everyone and everything.  I want to just yell out profanities and mumbo jumbo that has no clear meaning.  That’s the feeling you get when you see your team pull out a victory like that.

Its that kind of victory that shifts the attention from a negative to a positive.

Unfortunately THIS is the kind of victory that can help a team lose its perspective as they enter into the league’s most unforgiving second half schedule.

The Giants still haven’t played the Cowboys.  They go up to San Fran this week against the 7-1 49ers.  Then its back home for the Eagles against a team who embarassed them at home last year and may come in very angry and worse, VERY dangerous.  Then comes the Saints who play like the Dow Jones.  One week scoring 62 then the next not being able to score against a winless Rams team.  Then the week after they face the Packers.  Yep, the for now 8-0 Packers who will be coming off a very emotional Thanksgiving Day game and given a few extra days to rest to prepare for the Giants at the new Meadowlands.

Exactly WHO did the Giants piss off in the league office that they were given this schedule?  Either way, this is the kind of game that can bring the team up and help propel them to something special and help them realize the potential in themselves OR its the kind of game that can have them head into Candlestick overconfident and have their asses handed to them.  THEN start a spiral downwards that could cost them the division.

Either of those scenarios are still in play BUT for now, let’s just revel in this instant classic game that once again gave us the kind of goosebump highlights that made Giant and Patriot fans reminisce over Super Bowl 42.  So let’s delve into the big plays and the small things that may come back to haunt us:

– Eli IS elite.  Let’s put that argument to rest.  He’s a Super Bowl winner.  Clutch as they come.  And judging by Philip Rivers’ last few games we can end the talk that he’s better than Eli despite the fact that the argument, when one really breaks it down, is ludicrous considering what Eli has accomplished when compared to Rivers.  But that’s it for now.  Let’s remember that his number one receiver, running back and starting center were ALL out due to injuries.  The Giants have always been conservative when it comes to injuries and preventing further damage so there Eli was playing with Mario Manningham, Victor Cruz, Ramses Barden and Jake Ballard.  So if you take out Mario Manningham, a fifth round draft pick, we’re talking about two undrafted free agents and a guy who hadn’t played in over a year thanks to an injury.  That was Eli’s Sunday afternoon.  By Monday morning each had made atleast one play to put the Giants in position to score OR scored a touchdown.  Amazing.  That’s what great quarterbacks do.  That’s what elite quarterbacks do.  Plain and simple.

– Welcome back to Brandon Jacobs who played like the guy we all saw in 2006 and 2007.  The fear inducing runner who loves contact with smaller DB’s.  I think Tom Coughlin said it best, he wasn’t going east and west, he was going north and south and when Brandon Jacobs does that he’s a great runner because not many want to deal with his physicality.  His stats won’t say it, but if this is the Brandon Jacobs we’re going to get moving forward, teams had better worry; there aren’t two more angrier runners in the game than him and Ahmad Bradshaw.

– Once again, the coverage units did their job.  This time, it was Deon Grant who seemed to be everywhere that Tom Brady did NOT expect.  Forget the fact that Grant had one INT and two almost INT’s off Brady who never seemed to account for him, it was his coverage of the TE’s that helped win this game.  If the Giants allowed Hernandez and Gronkowski to get open, it would’ve been a long afternoon but the Giants knew that in order to beat Brady you had to occupy the TE’s long enough for the pass rush to be effective.

But the better coverage job was done by Mathias Kiawanuka who had the dubious honor of covering the slot guy in Wes Welker OR his kid brother Danny Woodhead.  No two slot receivers give defenses more fits than those two and Kiwi, the fruit Ninja, had to mix in coverage along with blitzing responsibilities and played a phenomenal game.  The kind of game that makes you realize why the Giants took from a position of strength (DE) to apply into a position of weakness (LB).  Kiwi had one INT of Brady thanks to a tip by Michael Boley (who we’ll laud too) which landed in his arms.

– Speaking of which, Michael Boley has been a God-send for the Giants since he signed with them in 2009.  The Giants were thin at the position and needed some youth badly.  Thanks to Boley’s emergence and his ability to call the signals on defense, they got more than they bargained for and have been rewarded since trusting him with the signal calling.  He’s been the defacto Mike despite playing mostly strong side LB on most downs.

– Back to Eli.  Bad Eli showed up on that one INT play in which he threw off his back foot and basically gave the Patriots all the momentum back but it eventually didn’t come back to haunt them, but those backfoot throws are the kind of things that drive you crazy as an Eli fan and give the haters plenty of ammunition against him.

– So after waiting for a year, we saw Ramses Barden make the kind of catch where you realized having a 6’6 and 240 pound receiver can be crucial.  On a 2nd and 10 on the final drive, he snatched a surefire INT and muscled his way into a first down which kept the drive going.  Amazing stuff and the physicality we had hoped to see.  Reminded me of Plaxico.  No lie.

– For the last few weeks, I told you how much I was impressed by Jake Ballard and well, what can you say about his Sunday afternoon?  Made the most clutch catch on a play that I’ve seen Eli throw plenty of times before.  Its his patented throw tight into double coverage and hope his receiver makes a play on the ball.  He did that throw twice, the second being the one that drew the pass interference call which set the Giants up at the Patriots one with less than a minute to go to win the game.  Ballard has been such a great find for the Giants that you’re now seeing what all the talent evaluators saw when they let Kevin Boss leave for the Raiders.  Look, I’m not going to say that that decision wasn’t with its inherent question marks but that’s why you trust the system and trust the development crew.  Want to know another Giants tight end who has been enjoying success?  Scott Chandler.  Chandler was on the Giants practice squad and today stars as the Bills TE.  You trust the system and you allow the development to happen.

– Which naturally leads me to the guy in charge of all that and that’s Jerry Reese.  During his first year as GM he engineered a draft that saw all 7 picks see the field and play prominent roles on a championship team.  Now, five years later with Reese’ job pretty much on the line, Reese did nothing but stand pat.  He let Boss leave for the Raiders.  He worked out a compromise on the Osi Umeniyora situation and he did an amazing job retooling the roster with some good draft picks.  Basically he got back to what made him a good GM and didn’t go out and spend money frivolously like he had done the last two seasons.  I’m not saying that he’s the GM of the year, but he’s in the running and we’re going to see more of that put to the test.  Prince Amukamara still hasnt played a down so that position of dearth may become one of strength if the Prince comes and plays to the talent the Giants expect.  Not bad for a guy who was going to enter a lame duck year eh?

– How poetic that the music being played on the loudspeakers as Eli and co were coming in was Victory by Biggie?

– The Giants played excellently on both sides of the ball and managed to be effective in both areas especially on limiting yards after catch which is a very tough thing to do with these Patriots and also an essential thing to do.  Everytime the Pats would catch a pass, they took a hit and were immediately dropped.  Only until the second half when Brady finally got a chance to hit receivers in stride (make that one, only Wes Welker did any damage) did the Pats have any YAC.  The Giants finally played an almost completely good game from top to bottom.  106 rushing yards on 24 carries which is still a 4.5 ypc average but after the first run for 18 yards by Ben Jarvis Green Ellis, the Patriots never had a high of more than 13 which was on an end around.  The fact is, the Giants played tough, motivated and within the game plan that was given to them.  Give them credit for keeping the Pats scoreless through 2.5 quarters and forcing Brady into uncharacteristic mistakes.  Brady never really had a clear lane of vision and never looked comfortable.

The Pats were considered by most a Top 5 team in the league prior to Sunday’s game and the Giants certainly will play the cream of the crop but they were up against the 32n’d rank pass defense.  The 31st?  That would be the league’s best team, the Green Bay Packers.  Much of that is due to the Packers usually being ahead comfortably and teams racking up yardage after they have put the game out of reach but Aaron Rodgers had to play a near perfect game in San Diego to escape with a W.  He also had to put up monster performances to escape a 2-6 team in Minnesota to also come away with a victory.  The Saints looked lifeless and completely lost against the Rams and never really looked dominant against the Bucs.  The Eagles are a complete mess and basically 2 losses away from their season being over.  What i’m trying to say is this: NO TEAM does NOT come away looking like an unbeatable team.  For the first time in years, there is an actual question mark each week.  I can see the Giants winning the next 4 or losing the next four.  Its either the ceiling or the basement.  Its unreal how open it is.  Betting this season has been fun and i’ve been moderately successful but its a complete crapshoot.

I’m saying this to Giants fans:  Don’t worry about the schedule.  Let the schedule worry about itself.  Let’s play this one game at a time and I think we may end up having a few more of these postgame moments in our future:

http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-locker-room-mvps/09000d5d823a982e/Locker-room-lingo?continuous=true

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Week 6 Lines

I want you to imagine for a second that  a team is driving to the
winning TD and a QB drops back and throws a crippling pick six which
ices the game. Also imagine a team going and trailing the whole game
and keeping it close enough for it’s fans to keep watching until there
is no more time left for any comebacks.

Yep, for one Sunday remnants of previous Giants and Jets regimes
popped up and reminded both fan bases of what used to be. While it’s
unclear whether this past Sunday is who both teams are, one playing
down to competition and one not as good as we thought.

But like I wrote in my postgame comments, I’m not concernedqd with the
Jets. Their line has had injuries and free agency forced them to rid
themselves of several key cogs of their defense but Rex Ryan’s defe-
f ense has never been about the players but more about the scheme.
They have never had a prototypical pass rusher but they have survived
and done well. The whole point is that the offense doesn’t know where
the pressure is coming from. Expect from Monday Night’s game against
the Dolphins on, that the Jets go back to running the football and
playing keep away with the defense. This Dolphin game couldn’t come at
a better time.

As for the Giants, the key is in perception. For some reason the
Giants revel in their underdog status. They enjoy it and love playing
it up as a rallying cry. It fuels them. Two come from behind wins
aren’t enough but when they are favored by such a substantial amount
its important to know that the Giants DO NOT feel comfortable and
would rather lose and have you underestimate them than win and prove
your confidence correct.

Ok so that was just fan speak for how frustrated I am about the Giants
but alls well that ends well right?  But I don’t think the Giants are
comfortable being the big bully. They would rather be the team that no
one saw coming. I don’t know how I feel about it, but it’s clear
that’s who they are.

Now to the lines:

PACKERS (-14) over Rams-  seriously?  This line can’t be high enough.

Jags (+12.5) over STEELERS-  either the Steelers are back or the
rumors that they have aged are true.  Judging by my pick you can see
where I stand on that. Steelers of two years ago I would have said
their defense alone could give them a two touchdown advantage.

Eagles (-3) over REDSKINS-  Eagles have done nothing to shake the
scary feeling that this dream team is more like a nightmare but I
don’t trust Rex Grossman. I love the Washington defense and running
game. Let’s see who shows up for the Eagles.

LIONS (-4) over 49ers-  I was legitimately afraid of that Detroit
crowd on Monday night. Tell me, when you saw Barry Sanders show his
face in Detroit that you didn’t hear a voice in the distance
whispering “if you build it, he will come”. Barry Sanders=Shoeless Joe

Panthers (+3.5) over FALCONS- Vegas needs to get off the Falcon
bandwagon and need to fully support the Cam bandwagon.  By the way,
how gangster was it to see Steve Smith catch that touchdown by
throwing the Saints defender off him, get a cheap shot from Roman
Harper, do his TD celebration, then drag Harper by the helmet with one
hand and just tell him really awful things you couldn’t air on HBO.
Yeah. Remember how there was a convo about who was the better Steve
Smith?  Yeah, let’s end that shall we?

BENGALS (-6) over Colts-  should I be worried that I’m using the
following sentence: yeah, but they are facing Curtis Painter. I should
get my head checked right?

Bills (+3) over GIANTS

RAVENS (-7) over Texans-  tough break for the texans losing Mario
Williams for the year. Let’s see uncle Wade do it sans his DeMarcus
Ware type player.

RAIDERS (-6) over Browns-  Al Davis is leading this team to some
bizarre wins. A fitting tribute.

PATRIOTS (-6.5) over Cowboys- I’m actually looking forward to this
game. High scoring affair for sure.

Saints (-6.5) over BUCS- Drew Brees fantasy monster.

BEARS (-2.5) over Vikings- First boring match up of that Sunday night line up.

JETS (-6.5) over Dolphins.

Enjoy week 6 folks

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