With regards to Osi Umenyiora and his comments during the players’ conference calls on Monday, I was listening to his call (at least the one to 98.7 here in NY). Regardless of what you think about everything else he said, the one thing that he said that WAS true was the fact that there isn’t one isolated thing that you can pin down. Injuries aside — as everyone has them and you must adjust — the defense’s play is a byproduct of the lack of offensive execution. It’s been horrible all year, honestly. It just didn’t start to bite us until we played against teams that were a) motivated to beat us because we were the defending champs b) just flat out bad matchups; i.e. everyone in the NFC East, as it stands, c) The teams on the front half of the schedule were either average or below average teams, in disarray (Dallas, especially) or beat up at critical positions and/or d) the defense had been very opportunistic for most of the year. They’ve been in the bottom third in total yardage ever since Fewell got here. It is not HIS fault, but the personnel grouping doesn’t afford him much flexibility. There is not enough speed anywhere on the defense to play man coverage extensively; especially when teams are obviously going to chip blocks, creative blocking schemes and short passes to negate the pass rush — which is often outside of its rushing lanes and giving up chunks of yardage on the ground (which Osi DID refer to in the call that I was listening to) — while leaving the DBs in a zone and out of position.
Even schleps like Flacco can carve up a back seven that is out of position to make plays in a predominantly zone-heavy defense that gets no pressure on the QB from its front four. My only criticism of Fewell is in-game adjustments at times. But again, he is handcuffed in that regard, because there isn’t enough speed at the LB and secondary levels to play man, and everyone on the back end is vulnerable in zones, when the pass rush is non-existent. Take into account that Fewell gives the players latitude to make what accounts to defense “read options” like Griffin does offensively in Washington, and you see the result: the numerous big plays given up to a very average WR who just happens to have speed on his side (and was getting shut down in man coverage by average CBs all year in AFC North tilts); Stevie Brown blows tons of assignments, Rolle has so many responsibilities that he is “in-between” frequently; incapable of assisting in run defense, and trailing, out of place, should the QB find the spot in the zone where he vacates his centerfield position to creep up into the box. A healthy Phillips would have negated a lot of the big plays that have plagued the Giants every single week this year, and at the very least, kept everything front of them, but the chunks of yardage underneath were still a problem even with Phillips healthy. Only the Green Bay game this year did it show, and that’s mostly because the Packers are virtually incapable of running the football, enabling the defense to sell out and rush the passer, letting the back side be damned, believing they would get there before the QB — even Rodgers — would have time to make a play behind the defensive front.
Then you assess the shoddy right side of the offensive line, which had been good enough before Flaherty pulled that foolish old-school “you can’t lose your job due to injury” crap, which destroyed the synergy that Snee and Locklear had forged. Dave Diehl has to go. Snee began regressing quickly, concurrent with Tuck‘s rapid decline, and with that fact obvious to every defensive coordinator in the NFL, you saw a good bit of the Giants’ run game go with it (I don’t have a play chart in front of me, but just off eyesight and blind recall of the games this year, most of the longest runs came off Beatty and Boothe’s side; and the only one that occurred without a stupid offensive penalty — which has been the other big issue over the past month, BTW — was Wilson’s TD run behind Boothe who pulled to the left and created a lane with Beatty for Wilson to run. Baas hasn’t been terrible this year, but he still gets blown up an awful lot, even if his pass protection has been very good for the most part.
The offense hasn’t been able to consistently sustain drives at all this year. Save for a couple of games against shoddy defenses, they’ve been incapable of converting 3rd and short distances, and seem to commit a silly penalty once they are in the opponent’s territory (and ESPECIALLY in the red zone).
I could go on and on, but it’s just not one thing. Throw in the caliber of opponent, and the stakes that THOSE teams have had facing them with the playoff picture not yet determined (in this 2-5 stretch) and that’s just a recipe for disaster. Never mind that Tuck has been absent for all but two games this year. Never mind that Canty missed nearly half the season, and, while being productive at times, has been a sieve against the run. Same with Joseph. Osi has lost quite a bit of speed, even if you cannot question his effort (or the obvious motivation for bringing it, for that matter). But he’s the most guilty of everyone on the line when it comes to rushing lane assignments, and when he guesses wrong and takes the wide approach (which he does more than half the time), teams just run right in behind it. He’s hustling in every game, from what I have observed. JP gets doubled and chipped a lot, but his back has obviously been hindering his explosiveness off the ball of late. He didn’t even get off the ball quickly in what were obvious pass rushing calls from Blackburn via Fewell. I understand that DEs are supposed to set the edge and aren’t necessarily going to explode off the ball if their assignment in a given look is to stand up and gain leverage to set the edge, but he’s not doubled as MUCH as people think. He’s not beating his man at LE or RE even when he’s singled up. Slow LBs (Blackburn makes up for some of it with smarts, but Boley has lost a step or two), oft-injured LBs (Rivers yawn, Williams’ growth was stunted this year because of his) and a slow secondary that is often out of place because of the aforementioned reasons, and an offense that has gone three and out at an alarming rate over the past seven games, and that’s about as close as you can get to pinning down what’s wrong with this team. It’s not one single thing or a single player. Blame it on mental fatigue for what amounts to 2 1/2 seasons worth of football in the past 18 months, blame it on all their community activities (look at how much guys like Tuck and Cruz have going on seemingly every day of the week, year round, outside of football), blame it on Super Bowl hangover (which is a foolish assertion regardless of the team and personnel), but as someone who watches every Giants game (fan for 29 years) and mounds of film, there are a plethora of things wrong with this team.
The one sure thing is that they are much more like the 2009 team than last year’s team. The haters spent the entire year waiting for the day that the Giants would get “exposed”, while crying that they were “lucky” to win last year, but the fact is, the Giants got a number of critical guys healthy late last year, and that was as much to explain for their hot streak (mind you, Fewell’s defenses were yielding fewer than 15 PPG over the those final two regular season games and the four playoff games, and no one scored 20 points in any of them, as they got Osi, Phillips, Tuck and a couple of others back late). This year, the only difference maker on defense who was out was Phillips. I did not like the way Fewell was using Williams even before he was hurt vs. SF, and Amukamara got hurt yet again when he was just turning the corner. Of course, just as HE began progressing, Webster went from a Top 5 CB to one of the absolute worst in the NFL this season. It began Week 1, and culminated with an Elvis Patterson-esque embarrassment on Sunday against an average receiver like Torrey Smith.
Nicks not being healthy at all this year certainly hampered the offense. It was evident even in the preseason game that he played, and early on. We didn’t panic then, because he broke out against Tampa. He hasn’t been the same since Talib’s cheap shots, where he was intentionally rolling up on his ankles, knowing that was going to affect the foot injury that he suffered. Overcompensation for the foot produced the knee problem that he has now. Cruz has been getting cheap shotted by teams all year, more so over the past 5-6 games, and you saw it yet again versus Baltimore. Guys are hitting him late and going high. Chris Hope, who isn’t even a dirty player (watched him throughout college while he was with my Noles) was going for a kill shot last week. Ed Reed unnecessarily went high on him on Sunday on that sideline catch. Throw in the Ryan Clark hit, the hit that SF put on him, and you see that teams were trying to take away his ability underneath and in the slot. With both Nicks and Cruz beaten up, and no pass protection to speak of lately, Eli has had no choice but to hurry throws and eat the ball. The offense’s inability to not only sustain drives, but score, and worse yet, give the defense a breather is another reason for the team’s lack of success lately as a whole. How many 10-13 play drives did Atlanta and Baltimore (the latter having played PUTRID offense over the past month and a half???) have simply because the defense spends so much time on the field either because of their inability to get stops on 3rd and longs, get takeaways, or because the offense is constantly going three and out, or only holding the ball for a minute or two even when they don’t go three and out, or just flat out turning the ball over via the galling number of INTs thrown by Eli?
So yes, assail Osi’s motives for what he said today, but what ails the Giants is not one single thing, and one issue begets a new issue in football. You’re seeing that right now. The Bears’ defense isn’t as opportunistic with creating turnovers and impact plays, and their offense is getting exposed just the same way. New England has been getting by despite giving up chunks of yardage every week because they’ve continued to force turnovers. If they are unable to do that in the playoffs, it’s going to derail their hopes also.