Chicken Little on the prowl

By | September 28, 2016

Judging by the emails we have received from our fellow Giants’ fans this week in the wake of Sunday’s loss to Washington, one would be thinking that while the world as we know it isn’t actually about to end, but the season is just about done! However, this is one of those times one really likes to be able to tell one’s friends to hold their water. While there is no such thing as a good loss in the NFL, there are bad losses like when you lose by three touchdowns to a sub-.500 team at home. Sunday’s loss to the Dreadthings just wasn’t that type of loss. No question the Giants missed a chance to really bury a division rival. Indeed, this game had ‘trap’ written all over it; Washington came to town as a desperate team, the Giants clearly weren’t very crisp on the day and they ended up minus in turnovers and yet were still in a position to win the game at the end. In fact, while the Giants were far from their best, one could even make the case that the Giants could just as easily have won by a couple of scores.

In the end, the difference in the game was the fact that the Giants finished the day minus-2 in turnovers, while they gave back a number of big plays as a result of several uncharacteristic, bone-headed penalties. Of the two, the turnover issue appears to be major issues. Indeed, it is impressive enough that the Giants are 2-1 despite being minus-6 in turnovers through the first three games. For the record, that puts the Giants in a tie for 30th in the league in net turnovers. What is a tad disconcerting is that through those first three games, the Giants defense has not produced a single turnover. In fact, the Giants only turnover over so far this year was the fumble recovery recorded by the special teams on Sunday against Washington. The funny thing about turnovers, though, is that they tend to be random and hopefully will start to even out in the next few weeks.

The other issue that has engendered a ton of mail this week has been ‘what’s wrong with the Giants’ offense?’ It’s a good question that I am sure has new head coach Ben McAdoo losing a little sleep over these days. On the one hand, the Giants have moved the ball; indeed, they are currently ranked 6th in the league in total offense, but that just hasn’t translated into points as the Giants are rated just 22nd  in PPG at just a tad over 21 per outing.

The sense we have right now is that the offense still looks to be searching for an identity. Indeed, right now it likes something cobbled together by a committee. For the most part, the offense looks like a spread, but too often the play selection says something else. For whatever reason, the Giants really have not been running many of the quick-hitting, possession-type routes normally associated with a spread offense, especially one with 3-4 (and maybe even 5) really good YAC spread offense receivers.

At the same time, the Giants appear to have spent an inordinate number of plays to date trying to get a run game going that too often just doesn’t look like it is there. Consider these numbers: the Giants are currently ranked second in the entire NFL in yards per pass attempt, but they only rank 18th in the actual number of passes thrown. In contrast, they rank 21st in yards per rush, but are 13th in rushing attempts. And the reality is that this Giants team isn’t likely to ever be a great running team. The offensive line is considerably better at pass protection than drive blocking; they don’t have a FB on the roster; neither of their TEs can block; and even when Rashad Jennings and Shane Vereen are healthy, they don’t have a true feature back capable of making yards on their own. Of course, what they do now with Vereen out for the year and Jennings sidelined and a RB committee of Darkwa, Perkins and Rainey may change their thinking.

What is going to be interesting to see going forward is what, if any, adjustments McAdoo makes to the scheme. Indeed, if one starts to channel one’s inner-Bill Belichek and ask what are the Giants’ strengths on offense the answer is pretty simple, a really good veteran QB and maybe the best 1-2-3 WR combination in the league. That’s where it has to start. Indeed, there are very few teams in the league that put 3 healthy CBs on the field to match up with Odell, Victor and Sterling Shepard, but we really haven’t seen the Giants take much advantage of that to date. Against Washington, for example, Victor Cruz was targeted just three times despite the fact he was in single coverage against a #4 corner all game long. For the record, Victor saw fewer balls than each of Will Tye, Larry Donnell and Shane Vereen and had just one more than back-up RB Bobby Rainey who barely played. Ridiculous given that Victor averaged 23 yards on those three targets. (On a related note we are also still trying to figure out in just what universe does a slow TE covered by a CB become the primary receiver running a seam route down in the red zone in a tight intra-divisional game, but that’s another story!)

Right now, McAdoo looks like he is trying to force an offense based on what he ran in Green Bay and last year with Coughlin and the Giants. But the current Giants just don’t really have that kind of personnel. It’s not really Giants football, but this team is built to spread the field, force opponents to match up and throw the ball all over the lot. Then throw in the odd run to keep the other guys honest, but otherwise it looks like it really should be damn the torpedos, full speed ahead!

A Giants’ eye to the future: We chose not to rag on the Giants’ TEs this year (other than the reference to the Tye pick above) as they have been

ragged on enough, but it’s not hard to make the case that they have been a drag to date. Bottom line is if guys like Tye and Donnell aren’t going to block much – and they don’t – then they have to average more than 5-6 yards a reception – and they haven’t! It’s too late to change personnel at the position this year – although we would note that there is in fact no rule in the NFL that mandates that an offense actually has to have a TE on the field EVERY play and that the Giants have other options as the 4th receiver – but it certainly will not be a surprise if they look to upgrade at the position at the coming draft, especially given that TE will likely be one of the strengths in 2017.

And several of the top TE prospects will be on display in this weekend’s big college games when 6 top-ten teams play each other. Michigan’s Jake Butt (#88, 6-5, 250), arguably the best two-way TE in college football, for example, will be front and center when the Wolverines host unbeaten Wisconsin in a 3:30 game on ABC on Saturday. (And speaking of Michigan TEs, UM back-up Tyrone Wheatley IS the son of the former Giants’ RB and first-round pick of the same name). Then later on Saturday night (8 PM ET; ABC), superstar QBs Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson will be featured when Clemson plays Louisville in one of the most anticipated games of the regular season, but keep an eye on Tigers’ TE Jordan Leggett (#16, 6-5, 255), another very good second-day type prospect at the position.