Wednesday, January 04, 2012

N.Y. Giants ~ G-Men and the Dept. of Defense

From the desk of:   DO IT FOR THE DUKE

NEW YORK GIANTS FOOTBALL:   Big Blue Unleashed Their Version of the Doomsday Defense Against Tony Romo and the Cowboys. 

Health, Experience, and Cohesion Finally Seem to be on Perry Fewell's Side.  But Suddenly, Steve Spagnuolo is Available Again.  So How Will Perry Fewell Deploy His Boys Now?

OFFENSIVELY SPEAKING:  Eli Leads Giants' Ground Game (?)

Let's face it, when the Defensive Front doesn't generate overwhelming pressure, and does little to disrupt timing, and can't crumble pockets, or cause fumbles, or get sacks, odds are the Giants lose.  Outside of Eli's arm, the more pressure they mount, the greater the Giants' chances are of winning.  That's the way it's played out all season.

For the simple fact that we are even talking about this today, you can thank Jason Pierre Paul for putting Big Blue on his back.  He recorded one of the Giants' six sacks Sunday.  But his relentless pursuit of the quarterback and overall indefatigable play through the first fifteen games delivered the Giants to Sunday and into position to play for the NFC East Title.  Then.., you can thank Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck for getting us past Dallas and into the playoffs.

With six sacks under their belts against Dallas, the Giants won convincingly by a 31-14 final score. That's no coincidence.  With Osi Umenyiora missing nearly half the season, and Justin Tuck not playing up to his standard because of a nasty neck stinger this season; more so than most things wrong with this team; point to an inconsistent pass rush for Big Blue's stumbling through the season en route to a 9-7 record.  Then point to Justin Tuck's late season health and Osi's return to the playing field these last two weeks against the Jets and Dallas, and well..., the results speak for themselves.

Perhaps one of the biggest sacks of the night came when Justin Tuck chased down Tony Romo.  Tuck was initially blocked on the play, but stayed persistent and finally got his man.  The play reminded me so much of the time Leonard Marshall hunted down Joe Montana in a legendary playoff battle of yore.  They were eerily similar plays in many ways.

In addition to ringing Romo's bell six times, the number of times they reached out and touched him were more than Romo and Dallas' offensive line could handle before Coach Garrett's switch board blew.  Because the pressure brought on by the Giants' pass rush also caused Tony Romo to fumble.  Keeping him under constant duress also induced a Tony Romo interception.  In the end, the Defense held Tony Romo under 300 yards passing, forced two turnovers, and totally shut down Dallas' running game.

I think Tony Romo dropped back to pass forty-five times in all.  Dallas only ran the ball sixteen times which perhaps played right into the Giants' pass rush.  However, the few times Dallas did elect to run the ball, the Giants stopped them cold.  Take away two Tony Romo scrambles (...for his life and limb), and the Giants limited the Cowboys to forty-six yards on fourteen carries.  The Giants' defense against the run has come a long way this season.  Where once they routinely gave up Giant gallops through their middle, they have become somewhat of a resolute bunch against the run lately.

For a portion of the season, Linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka was asked to some how keep things together with four rookies in the rotation.  Today, much of the reason for the turn-around against the run has been a return to health by Michael Boley and the continuing maturity of Jacquian Williams.  The two led the Giants in tackles Sunday.  And on top of corralling Dallas' run game, the Giant Linebackers also rendered Jason Witten inconsequential.  The emergence of Jacquian Williams was also reflected with a sack of Tony Romo.  And then there was the play in which Michael Boley launched himself over the pile-up at the line of scrimmage to prevent Tony Romo from literally sneaking a fast one past the Giants and getting into the end-zone for a score.  It was a great play by a Giant Linebacker; the way it used to be around here....once.

For Dallas, play-action went out the window.  The Linebackers shut down the run game and as mentioned, were tasked with spying Jason Witten.  The pass rush was able to tee-off on Romo because Dallas was playing from behind and had obviously abandoned the run.  Most importantly, Perry Fewell finally decided to rush five people against Tony Romo and it worked to the tune of six sacks and seven more QB touches as noted.

For Dallas, all element of surprise was gone.  Thus the Secondary was afforded many opportunities to look back at the quarterback and still maintain coverage.  So it stands to say that in the last game of the season, the battle-torn Secondary had perhaps their finest day.  And just in time too.  There was nothing open down field for Tony Romo and his receivers nor anything available over the top.  Dallas' main receivers remained covered and out of step with the Giants' pass rush.  When Romo checked down to Mr. Reliable Jason Witten, Antrel Rolle knew it was coming.

The Giants forced Romo to accept the underneath pass and limited them to a ten yard average per catch.  Perry Fewell simplified coverage and played a lot of base-Cover-Two.  And it worked.  The only knock against the plan was Kenny Phillips was still a little slow in his recognition.  But the bottom line is the Secondary pretty much took away the deep pass.  Only Dallas' Laurent Robinson seemed to find empty spaces in the Defense.  In the third quarter, the Cowboys started to speed things up with success until Coach Fewell adjusted.  Otherwise, the longest play the Secondary allowed through the air was a thirty-four yard gain.  And their tackling was sound.  As the pass rush kept Romo in a harried state, Antrel Rolle was able to come down with an interception.

*     *     *     *

The end of the regular season ended on a good Defensive note;  -  not great; but very good.  Lest we forget all the problems they really still have.  But the conversation regarding the Defense is now one which involves many players (key word - many) doing big things together again.  Health, a year of Experience; and Cohesion seem to be finally bringing things together for this Defense.  We hope.

Chris Canty continues to take Giant steps forward.  He also recorded a sack of Romo.  Osi Umenyiora, fresh out of the M*A*S*H tent steps on the field and records two sacks.  For the second week in a row, Justin Tuck looks like - Justin Tuck; and it's great to hear him talkin' trash after being so down on himself just three weeks ago.  Because a happy Tuck is a dangerous Tuck!  Dave Tollefson's game has also been up-ticking as well.

Rookie Jacquian Williams is officially no longer a rookie.  Has an entire regular season under his belt now after seventeen weeks of on-the-job-training, and he's all the better for it.  He might very well be a major contributor in the upcoming game against Atlanta.  Michael Boley tapped into his inner-Superman and sprung to action in the nick of time (and space), to keep the Giants out of the Twilight Zone.  And with Mathias Kiwanuka, the Linebacking Corps just might be up to the challenge of the playoffs.  The only test that concerns them now is how to stop Michael Turner and Matt Ryan.

Antrel Rolle, Deon Grant, and Kenny Phillips had a much easier go of things with Corey Webster and Aaron Ross off in man-coverage.  And perhaps the Safeties, the Corners, and Perry Fewell have finally found some common ground with which to work on.  What ever they did Sunday contributed to the pass rush.  And in return, the pass rush made coverage look good all game long.  It's a symbiotic relationship.  We can only hope the two units keep that timing going against Atlanta's offense.

Which causes which to succeed?  It doesn't matter for as long as the pass rush and the Secondary are in sync.  Timing is everything.  And it appears as if the Giants Defense is getting healthy, gaining cohesion, and feeling aggressive at the right time.  As the Defensive play continues to rise, will Perry Fewell now turn up the heat against Atlanta?

Much of his dilemma with the Giants' pass rush came in part because Coach tried cheating to help the coverage.  He relied on the front four to provide pressure without any blitzing or any real kind of deception.  Osi was still out and Tuck was ailing then.  Perry Fewell's Secondary confusing zone coverage; four rookies at linebacker; and injuries to the pass rush all conspired against the Defensive Coordinator.

Let's say this much about Coach Fewell's adaptability.  He ditched his experiments in zone coverage and simplified things for the Secondary considerably.  Then up front, he added a fifth guy to the pass rush.  But that came with healthy bodies.  Injuries and "Coordinator pragmatism" have force his hand at times.  While Eli Manning was the star of the game, the dominance the Giants exhibited over the Cowboys Sunday was the major reason the Giants won.  Can they carry the Giants moving forward?

Perry Fewell may not be as diabolical as Coach Spags was with his schemes, or as creative for that matter.  But I do know Perry Fewell knows a thing or two about aggression if he feels he has all his chess pieces in place.  Well Coach, the gang is all here now.  And after last game, they look like a bunch of  "crazed dogs" wagging their tails mightily with ears pointing up just waiting for you to give them the signal to attack.

Perry Fewell has had his moments.  But his overall body of work remains average.  Steve Spagnuolo is officially a free agent again.  The St. Louis Rams fired him as Head Coach at the conclusion of the season.  And yes, I'd fire Perry Fewell and rehire Coach Spags in a N.Y. minute.  But that's for the future.  How fast that future descends upon Perry Fewell and the Giants' Defense is now in Coach's hands.


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