PROBLEM AREASOffensive Line
While providing pretty okay pass protection (19 sacks, 2 on David "Beat Up Old" Carr), this group has been simply horrendous in their run blocking this year. Part of it is the play calling (more on that later), but this group led the way for the NFL's best-ranked rushing attack last year, and is simply under-performing in 09. Brandon Jacobs has proven to be an effective back to the tune of two 1,000 yard seasons in a row. But this year, Jacobs is dodging a defender as soon as he's got the ball. Defenses are getting insane penetration in the running game, giving even the shiftier Ahmad Bradshaw nowhere to go. And while stretch plays aren't what Jacobs does best, the front 5 has blocked them well in the past. The sorry run game this year is a result of 5 individuals not playing well as a group. They need to take more pride in their blocking, man up, and push people off the ball. Simple as that. Regardless of how they end this year, though, I'm calling for a pretty major off-season shake-up (to be outlined in Part 2).
I love Antonio Pierce as much as anybody, but let's be honest for a moment: the guy has been a below average linebacker since last year. Throw in his new season-ending neck injury, his NFL-old 32 years of age, and his steadily declining effectiveness, and his time is running out in NY. Even Pierce's trademark at-the-line brilliance has been missing this year, as his adjustments (if he's even made them) have proven ineffective. If Chase Blackburn was the answer, he'd have earned any starting job a long time ago. Blackburn is a slower, less savvy Pierce. The way the NFL is played today, we need an athlete in there. It's time for the coaches to throw Johnathan Goff in there for a few games and see if he's their guy for the future. If not, I'll kindly refer the coaching staff to Part 2 of this little article.
The Giants spent an estimated $345 hojillian on defensive tackles in Free Agency with 1 total sack to show for it. This group, more than any on the defense, has been simply awful this year. I can't blame Chris Canty just yet, as he's still working back from an injury while learning a new position (and dropping into coverage? WTF?). But Rocky Bernard has been a complete waste of money. He's getting no push up the middle and giving nothing to run support. If he's not being blown off the ball, he's just not in the play. Last year's starters Barry Cofield and Fred Robbins have been lousy as well, with 1 sack between them as well. Cofield I can live with, as he's young with some upside and has only ever been a body against the run, but Robbins has shown signs of being a good pass rushing DT. Not anymore, after major knee surgery at 32. Robbins' contract is up after this year, and I expect he will be gone after this performance. Cofield is in the last year of his deal as well, and the coaches will have to make a tough decision on him. I don't see the Giants cutting Bernard after the first year of his new deal, but he could be in trouble if he doesn't step up.
If C.C. Brown and Aaron Rouse are supposed to be the answer, I don't really want to know the question. Brown has been beyond useless, and Rouse is finally starting to get this "playing football" thing down. Michael Johnson has been decent at Strong Safety, and he's not asked to do a ton of covering since he spends most of his time in the box against the run. The Giants were counting on Kenny Phillips to turn into a star, and he appeared to be on his way before a season ending injury. That injury also (rightly) raised questions about his long term health and future, so the Giants need to start looking ahead now. What if his knee never fully recovers and he can't get back to the level he started this year at? What if his arthritic knee is career ending? They need a plan that doesn't involve Brown or Rouse. I like Rouse as a third safety for dime packages against three+ receiver sets, but that's about it. We need a safety who is anything other than a liability in deep coverage, and who doesn't whiff on easy tackles. I don't need huge numbers in interceptions. I'll settle for a couple of well-defensed balls batted away and some timely tackling.
Listen, Kevin Boss is awesome, even if Kevin Gilbride and the other Giants coaches don't realize it. But possibly the biggest mistake the Giants made this off-season was trading away blocking TE Michael Matthews and keeping not-even-good-at-that pass-catching TE Darcy Johnson. With Matthews in on running downs, it was like having an extra offensive lineman who could catch a pass in a pinch. With Johnson in on 2 TE sets, we have no choice but to run behind Boss who, in only his third season, is still learning the intricacies of NFL blocking. If we need a TE to catch a ball, we have Boss or rookie Travis Beckum. I see a huge need for a big bodied tight end to squat on the line and block someone in the run game. That guy is not on this roster, and that needs fixing.
How can you not love Jeff Feagles? The guy is 43 and still playing in the NFL. Unfortunately, he's no longer playing at a high level in the NFL. His directional style of punting has been a great asset to the Giants in recent years, but Feagles seems to have lost his uncanny accuracy this year, shanking tons of kicks out of bounds early for some abysmally short punts, providing our already porous defense a shorter field to defend. He's never had a big leg, and here in the twilight of his career, he has finally become a liability. We're witnessing the end of one of the great, and entirely unnoticed and unheralded, careers, and Feagles and Ray Guy should be the only two punters ever allowed in the Hall of Fame. The Giants will look for a new young punter in the offseason, and if they stay true to form, he'll be in the back end of the draft.
I think at this point in the season, any blue-blooded Giants fan realizes that Bill Sheridan stinks. He's calling the same passive soft-zones that got Tim Lewis fired 3 or 4 years ago. He is hesitant to call blitzes, is never seen rallying or even coaching up his players on the sideline. Sheridan coaches scared, not blitzing for fear of giving up big plays, and not trusting his corners to cover man on man. That's not Giants football. Maybe he was an awesome LB coach, and he must have made a great overture to Tom Coughlin to get the coordinator job, but he's done. As loyal as Coughlin is to his staff, there will be too much public outcry for Sheridan to keep his job barring a dramatic turnaround. He either needs to dial up the aggression in his play-calling, put his stars in position to excel, and turn this miserable defense around, or he'll be looking for a job in January.
I've been against Kevin Gilbride since before he even got the coordinator job. I always felt the blame for Eli Manning's apparent lack of progression during his first 3 years fell right on the head of the quarterback coach (Gilbride), and was appalled at his promotion. Some people were fooled by the Super Bowl win and last year's 12-4 record under this clown, but this year we see his true colors. He has never been a big believer in the run game; just ask Tiki Barber - in his last season (Gilbride's first as OC), he repeatedly criticized the coaches for giving up on the run too quickly. This year, we've seen him rear his ugly head again, never even attempting to commit to the run. He doesn't even call for play-action anymore. The guy is obsessed with deep passes and stretched out run plays. When you have quicker-than-fast receivers and a huge RB, that's not the game plan for success. He needs to run downhill up the middle and call passes that allow his receivers to get yards after the catch. He has no idea how to run an offense for this personnel, and he also has to go after this year.
I've been on the coaches for a while, but not Tom Coughlin. And truth be told, I won't get on him. That dude is a winner; he made 2 AFC Championship games in Jacksonville, and won a Super Bowl in New York. He's got some work to do this off season, and needs to rebuild his staff to save his job. The Giants will probably go 8-8 this year; not bad enough to fire Coughlin, but bad enough to can him next year if they don't improve. Suggestions are on their way, Tom.