Trying to see Blue through rose-colored glasses

With September football done, I thought this a good time for my own assessment of the Giants, to see if I can justify hope or should hop on a green bandwagon.

Well, the good news may be that their two losses have come out of the conference. That said, those losses were ugly, and revealed key weaknesses. I don’t have to stretch the imagination too much, however, to dig up some positives from these sound beatings.

To start, when manhandled by the Colts last week, my biggest gripe was what seemed to be Blue’s being completely outcoached—for example, not being prepared with a run defense or able to adapt to Indy’s no-huddle offense. They suited up scores of pass rushers and played plenty of defensive backs, and the few run stuffers were clearly pushed to exhaustion and the DBs were just pushed around. This past week, the Giants seemed more prepared in that aspect of the game plan.

And, since I mentioned the defensive line already, I’ll continue with them. I have no problem at all with the play of Barry Cofield, healthy again and somewhat underrated at DT; Mathias Kiwanuka, playing like a very solid number 1 pick; and Justin Tuck, whose biggest problem may be that he is not Michael Strahan—on or off the field. I still don’t know how I feel about Chris Canty, who makes big plays but seems to disappear for long stretches. Then there is Osi Umeniyiora, who gets manhandled play after play—I expect his playing time will drop. Overall, this group is still more than good enough if they are put in the right game plan.

I have not seen anything impressive from our linebackers. No player or play stands out in my mind. This unit is always a strength on good Giants teams. The jury is still out on Keith Bolluck, but as of now, there are no playmakers or leaders in this group.

In the defensive backfield, I am thrilled to see Kenny Phillips back there, looking strong and sharp. Other than an athletic interception against Carolina, however, no other safety has impressed me. I am not happy with the play of the other first-round pick in the secondary: injury-riddled Aaron Ross. Promising as a rookie, all I see is him being too late to a thrown ball, or a step behind whoever he is chasing. The other corners are playing just average, and allow too many receptions. This group can heal and be coached to play better down the stretch.

As a unit, nobody is stepping up to make plays on defense. Yes, they generate the occasional sack and negative rushes, but they are not forcing turnovers. In years past, you could almost count on the Giants defense to make a key play at a turning point in the game, but I just don’t know who you might expect that from now. I saw KP try to rip the ball from a receiver on Sunday, but who in the front seven is going to force a fumble on a running play, and where are the interceptions?

Then there are the Special Teams. A philosophy of coaches is that you win if two out of the three units outplays those they oppose. The Giants Special Teams are not going to outplay anybody. Missed field goals, blocked punts, line-drive punts, big returns yielded, whisper quiet returns of our own—this unit is weak. A fair share of the blame for the Tennessee loss rests squarely with them, and I expect that they are far more likely to cost us a game than to win us one. The coaches have to take steps to improve this group.

Finally, there is the offense. The inability to stop speed rushers without double teams, the inconsistent forward push for the running game, the drop-off at the fullback position—those we may be stuck with unless the Giants make some moves. Those ridiculous deflections off the hands of our receivers into the opponents’ hands, the fumbles of Ahmed Bradshaw, those flagrant personal fouls, and the left-handed attempts from Eli—those are all very correctable! They have to be. This is the coaching challenge for the week: Correct the mental part of the game. Maybe the players will feel guilty enough on their own; maybe the coaches have to retool their approach; or, more likely, it’s some combination of the two.

As a unit, the Giants can amass yardage, but shoving the ball in the end zone, oh, hell, just kicking a damn field goal, has got to be the end result of more drives. Getting Shaun O’Hara healthy and finding the right mix on the line is another great challenge facing the offense. Clearly, though, Bradshaw is healthier than he had been in a while and is making plays even without the offensive line playing at the level we Giants fans expect. With Brandon Jacobs, it seems unrealistic to expect that he can play at the punishing level we grew used to seeing during the Tiki era. The wide receivers (the drops notwithstanding) and tight ends are certainly a team strength; further, I saw some good blocking at the line by the TEs and downfield by the wideouts, and good play by them can only soften things up in the trenches for the running game.

Look at what the Giants did wrong in week 2—from Jacobs’ meltdown to poor staffing on defense. Those were fixable and they indeed seemed improved in Week 3. I’m not dismissing that the Giants were completely outclassed by the Colts. But, against the Titans, if they make a few field goals, if they throw only right-handed passes, if they don’t commit 6 personal fouls, the game plays out differently. If the Giants can overcome some of these mistakes, they may start October the way they started September. Let me throw in that the other teams in the Division still must face the formidable Colts.

The season is still early, and Big Blue is still perfect in the conference. I’ll be watching the Giants–Bears game Sunday night with some hope.

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