GIANTS REPORT: Thinking outside the Big Blue Box

Long-time readers of the GBN will know that GBN Editor and Publisher Grumpy Lindsay is a life-long fan of the New York Giants. In fact, the GBN was originally intended to be a Giants-oriented draft site, hence the Blue in Great Blue North. However, while the site soon went league-wide Grumpy remains  a steadfast Giants’ supporter and from time to time publishes his thoughts on the state of the Giants and especially their draft process.

Giants post-draft buzz

Got a chance to chat with a guy who is pretty close to the Giants last evening and this was the gist of some of what he had to say.

Going into the draft the #1 guy on the Giants short list was Mahomes (more on that below). They were prepared to try and move up if Mahomes had come within range but they really didn’t expect to have a shot as there other teams with greater interest/needs.

Once Mahomes was off the board, Engram was pretty much the choice. And they liked him not so much because he represented an upgrade at TE, but because they felt he was one of the most dynamic playmakers in the game who is going to be a huge match up headache going forward. Now its up to Eli and coach McAdoo to take advantage. What my contact couldn’t, or wouldn’t say was whether the Giants had Engram or Howard rated higher but he did imply there wasn’t much difference.

The Giants were looking at offensive linemen, but in the end just didn’t see the value. Remember a few days at back when at the pre-draft pressers someone (Reese or Ross) commented how the Giants put their own players on the board which had us all scratching our heads. Sounds like the OL available this week didn’t grade any higher than the guys they currently have. And while it would have been nice to bring some new blood in to compete up front earlier than they did they felt the guys the new guys weren’t going to more than competition for the current roster (which probably wouldn’t have been a bad thing, but other than Webb they hope that the guys taken in rounds 1-5 will contribute sooner rather than later in some fashion.)

It sounds like the Giants came close to pulling the trigger on Webb in the second round, but they really liked Tomlinson who they feel is a physical, high-motor guy who will combine nicely with Snacks and did represent a major upgrade over what they currently have inside on the D-line.

One also got the feeling talking with this guy that the interest in Mahomes/Webb goes beyond just finding a future replacement for Eli and that there is a certain frustration within the organization that other than those two Super Bowl stretches Eli really has never taken his game to the next level on a consistent basis. I have been as big an Eli fan as there is, but its hard to argue with the fact that in his career Eli has finished in the top ten in the league in passing efficiency just once (he was 22nd in 2016) and there continue to be just too many turnovers. This year for example Brady, Ryan and Prescott had 13 picks combined, while Eli had 16 on his own. In fact only once in his career has he had fewer than 13 picks in a season. And one can blame the OL to a degree, but the fact is that other than Prescott at Dallas, none of the other top QBs in the league operate behind OLs that are anything more than pedestrian. Time will tell.

Reading the Big Blue tea leaves … and seeing a lot of tea leaves

One of our favorite parts of the pre-draft process is trying to figure out what the Giants are thinking and where they might go with their early picks. Some years we’ve figured it out pretty early, others, though, we haven’t had a clue. With the clock ticking on the 2017 draft, which is now just over a month away, its feeling way more like the latter rather than the former.

Certainly, if one is to try and understand what the Giants are thinking as the draft approaches, it is kind of important to understand how they actually draft. Indeed, we always have to kind of chuckle just a little when we hear people – even some in the media who should know better – talk about ‘Jerry Reese’s picks’. As we have preached on many occasions, Jerry Reese doesn’t make the picks, has never made the picks, and almost assuredly never will make the picks.

The confusion comes in large part because many fans tend to presume that the Giants conduct their draft the same way members of the peanut gallery follow the draft in their dens at home: Reese and company show up at the Giants War Room on draft day armed with their lists of prospects; check off the players selected by teams with picks ahead of the Giants, and then choose the best player at a position of need once they get on the clock. In reality, the Giants, like almost other teams around the league take a much more proactive to the draft. In fact, only twice since the turn of the century did the Giants make what could be classified a pure BPA pick: Matthias Kiwanuka in 2007 and Prince Amukamara in 2011.

The reality is that in literally every draft since the turn of the century the Giants have entered the draft either clearly focused on a particular position or they have come to the draft targeting a particular. In terms of positions, for example, the Giants went to the 2001 draft looking for a CB (Will Allen); in 2003 it was the defensive line (William Joseph); DB in 2006 (Aaron Ross); WR in 2009 (Hakim Nicks); and LT in 2015 (Ereck Flowers). You could probably include 2014 in that category in that the Giants appeared to enter the draft targeting either an OT or WR with their #1 pick, which of course turned out to be one Odell Beckham Jr.

In other years, though, the Giants entered the draft clearly focused on one player: Shockey in 2002; Eli in 2004; Sinorice Moss in 2006, the Kiwi year; Kenny Phillips in 2008; JPP in 2010; David Wilson in 2012; Justin Pugh in 2013; and Leonard Floyd, who of course they didn’t get, last year. In some years, those players in fact represented a pretty pressing need, but in others the Giants were interested in the guy simply because they saw a potential impact player at the next level. In fact, what’s quite fascinating about those years is that the Giants fall-back choice (where it was known) was never once a guy who played the same position. In 2016, for example, OT Jack Conklin was the Giants second choice after OLB Floyd and when they didn’t get either they chose CB Eli Apple and in fact did not select either an OLB or OT at any point later in the draft.

It was also pretty clear in the past whether the Giants were targeting a particular position or whether they were focused in on a particular player. In fact, in the latter case in a lot of years (Shockey, Eli, Phillips, JPP and Floyd last year) it wasn’t all that hard to figure out who was the individual target. Not so this year though. In fact, what makes the 2017 draft really interesting from an analyst’s perspective is that the Giants have left plenty of hints that they are considering both options this year.

On the one hand, the Giants have left little doubt that they are seriously looking at the offensive line, especially OTs, this year. A disproportionate percentage of the players they interviewed at both the Senior Bowl and combine, for example, were offensive linemen. They also have had, or will have, three of this year’s top four offensive line prospects (Garrett Bolles, Cam Robinson and Ryan Ramczyk) in as one of their allotted 30 pre-draft onsite visits from out-of-town prospects. It’s interesting that the one top OL prospect they won’t apparently visit with is Forrest Lamp, who many feel is the most NFL-ready, but likely doesn’t have the length to plat OT at the next level. At the same time, though, the Giants do not appear to have had a senior exec at any of the pro days of the top offensive line prospects and, at least in their public pronouncements, the Giants brain trust has seemed to indicate that they are reasonably content with the make-up of the offensive line.

In fact, in the recent past, if one wanted to know which player, or players, the Giants were looking at one had to follow the money, or at least track which top prospects senior Giants’ execs were checking out as they generally only got up close and personal with the player the Giants were targeting. This year, though, Giants’ execs have made more trips than usual. Jerry Reese attended the pro days of LB Zach Cunningham and North Carolina Mitch Trubisky, for example, while Marc Ross was at the Florida pro day where LB Jarrad Davis had an outstanding performance. Then there was head coach Ben McAdoo, who had never been to a pro day for anybody, traveling half way across the country to check out Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes. Note that none of those guys the Giants brass went to see were offensive linemen, but individual skill people.

Bottom line is that nobody, at least outside the organization, has a clue what the Giants are thinking right now. Fact is that while the nervous nellies may disagree, the Giants really don’t haven’t any glaring holes that just have to be addressed. At the same time, though, the Giants don’t have many areas that are so talented or deep that a case can’t be made that the position could stand up grading. And in the end the Giants plan may very well include a short list of 2-3 impact players that they really like, and if I had to guess at their short list based on a reading of the tea leaves it might include Mahomes along with LBs Cunningham and Davis with the offensive line a fallback if their short listed guys are off the board. But that’s just a guess. As Jon Gruden once famously said: “this draft can’t come soon enough!”

We stand on OG for thee!!!

We really don’t think the Giants will go into the 2017 draft looking to select an offensive linemen with one of their early picks. (To make a long story short, the Giants obviously have some issues up front, especially on the right side of the line; however, the more likely scenario is that they once again try and address those particular issues in free agency. What we do expect the Giants to do with those early picks is address the pass rush, which really hasn’t been all that close to being anywhere near at a championship level, as well as look to add another receiver – either a TE or WR or both. But more on that as we get closer to the draft).

All that said, if the Giants do end up drafting somewhere in the 20s – if the draft were held this week they would select 26th – we certainly wouldn’t rule out the possibility that the Giants take an offensive lineman simply because the value was too good to pass on. To that end, Giants’ fans might want to check out a couple of really good OG candidates who could be in the discussion at that point whose teams don’t get a lot of national air time, but will be on prime TV this weekend. In fact, a pretty good case can be made that Indiana OG Dan Feeney (#67, 6-5, 310) is the best offensive lineman in the country this year. Feeney and the Hoosiers will be in Michigan to play the 4th ranked Wolverines at 3:30 PM ET on Saturday. Feeney will actually make his third start of the year at RT against Michigan after making 41 starts at OG. And in those 43 career starts covering over 3,300 snaps, Feeney, who is also a rugged run blocker, allowed just one sack.

While Feeney has been on NFL scouts’ radar for several years now, almost nobody has heard of Washington State junior OG Cody O’Connell (#76, 6-7, 355) until very recently. He’ll be featured when the resurgent Cougars, who lead the Pac-12 North division play at resurgent Colorado, which leads the South, on Saturday, also at 3:30 PM ET on Fox.  O’Connell is a massive guy who literally does block out the sun – his teammates refer to him affectionately as ‘The Continent’ and he has been rocketing up draft boards around the league. But he also moves well for a big guy and gets lots of reps pass blocking in the wide-open WSU offense.

Giants bye week review

With the Giants on their bye week it’s as good a time as any to take of the state of the team heading into the second half of the season. On the one hand, the Giants have to be happy enough with their 4-3 record that has them very much in the thick of the NFC playoff chase. In particular, they have to be happy enough with their current record based on the fact that they have played one of the tougher schedules in the entire league to date. Indeed, their opponents through the first 7 weeks of the schedule have a combined W-L % of 58%*. The Giants also have to be more than just a little relieved that they are currently above .500 despite the fact that they have a net turnover figure of minus 7, which for the mathematically challenged works out to an average of down one turnover every game! And that’s giving one’s self a pretty big mountain to climb.

The Giants also have to be pretty happy with the way the defense has played through the first 7 weeks of the season. The pass rush still isn’t where the Giants would like it – they are 28th in the NFL with just 9 sacks – but overall they are 14th in total defense and 10th in points per game allowed. What they have been getting on D is some Pro Bowl-type performances by guys like SS Landon Collins and CBs Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie; in addition, they have gotten plays from a whole bunch of players in the back seven as the LBs and DBs have been rallying to the ball and tackling well.

Getting the D back to being at least competitive of course was part of the Giants master plan prior to the start of the season. Combine that with last year’s explosive offense and the thinking was the team should be very much back in contention. However, while the defense has done its part, the offense obviously has not. The Giants are currently ranked only 20th in total offense and just 25th in scoring so far this fall. And over the past 4 games its actually gotten worse as they averaged just 16 first downs per game over the last month, while the running game has all but disappeared averaging less than 50 yards per game and just 2.8 yards per carry in that stretch.

Giants’ head coach Ben McAdoo has promised to a full review of the entire offense during the break including everything from the play-calling to the overall scheme. To help him out, we spent the past couple of days reviewing the game tapes from the past few weeks and a few things kind of jumped out.

First, Eli just has not been very comfortable in the pocket literally since the 3rd quarter of the Washington game when he took a real pop in the ribs. In particular, Eli just hasn’t been setting his feet; he’s dancing around and looks like he is bailing on just about every throw instead of stepping into his passes. As a result, too many of his pass attempts are thrown off his back foot resulting in a lot of high passes, less velocity and less accuracy.

One certainly gets the feeling that Eli really isn’t trusting his pocket these days. And while the offensive line has taken its lumps when it comes to whom or what is to blame for the Giants current offensive, the bottom line is that while there have been opposing defensive linemen around Eli a lot this year, the fact is he really hasn’t actually been hit all that much. Indeed, the Giants rank fifth in the league in fewest sacks allowed and third in fewest QB hits overall.

One adjustment that McAdoo could consider in that regard is to increase Eli’s drops. Right now the Giants appear to be running almost exclusively a three-step drop when Eli lines up under center and five when he works out of the shotgun so it should be possible to give him an extra step or two to allow a little more room to step up into throws and to find a check-down receiver if needed.

The bigger issue we noticed, though, revolves around the routes Giants receivers are running. Indeed, we have been trying to come up with a word to summarize what we were seeing and the only words that easily came to mind were along the lines of awful, bizarre, and incomprehensible. They just don’t seem to make a ton of sense.

For starters, the Giants’ routes almost all appear to be individual, vertical routes with little co-ordination. Against the Rams, for example, we saw only one route that could loosely by described as a rub route, while there was nothing that even resembled a pick or a clear-out route. There were also very few crossing routes.

In fact, too often routes seemed to be actually working at cross purposes as secondary receivers ended up bringing defenders to the ball rather than away from it. One example of that that kind of stood was the outlet pass to Rainey that went for a loss near the end of the first half. The Giants had two WRs bunched on the wide side of the field and what should have worked theoretically was that those two guys go downfield and take the defense with them allowing the RB to curl out of the backfield and into what should be some space. However, both Giants receivers just went up field 5-6 yards, turned around and stopped making it very easy for the DBs covering them to come up and nail Rainey in the backfield.

Ironically, the other play that really rankled was actually the Giants key offensive play of the game. After Collins made his second pick early in the 4th quarter the Giants had a third and three inside the Rams 25-yard line. They lined up Odell, Shephard and Roger Lewis in a bunch on the left side. Now the theory of bunching receivers is that two go tearing downfield taking their covers with them while the third takes a very different angle and forces his defender to both have to fight through the traffic as well as potentially have to go a long distance to have any chance of making play. (On an aside note if McAdoo want to figure out how it’s actually supposed to work they might think about watching some Patriots’ tapes to see how they find ways get Edelman and Gronk free on very simple crossing routes out of a bunched set.)

What the Giants did, though, was have the two inside receivers (Shepard and Lewis) run 5-yard outs (and stop which is a recurring theme when watching Giants’ receivers). Meanwhile, Odell headed upfield alone and was immediately picked up by the CB assigned to him who was clean without any traffic to work through; in fact, #13 was actually then doubled by a safety working over the top. Odell was able to outjump them to make the completion at the 6-yard line that set up the game winning TD. However, the bottom line of a set of bunched receivers is that you throw to a guy that comes open, not somebody who’s doubled! Otherwise, what’s the point.

All that leads to a bigger question about the Giants’ overall offensive scheme. Indeed, right now, the Giants’ offense looks like something put together by a committee. And one could take it a step further and suggest that the game plan the past few weeks was something put together by a committee that didn’t have a quorum!

Certainly we have been mightily disappointed in new head coach Ben McAdoo to date. If there was one thing that drove us crazy during the Coughlin years was that Giants ‘did what they did because that’s what they did.’ Coughlin had his system and players were made to fit the system. If they didn’t fit they didn’t play. And if something didn’t work then you just worked harder at it. During the past couple of years, though, we heard a lot from offensive co-ordinator McAdoo that what he didn’t want to be pigeon-holed into one system, that he wanted to take advantage of the skills of his players and find ways to create mismatches. However, having takeover as the head coach McAdoo has morphed into a younger version of Tom Coughlin by running arguably the most vanilla, least creative offense in the league that has used the same base set on just about every and who’s only answer to the Giants’ offensive woes seems to be ‘we have to establish the running game!’

Problem in that regard is that this Giants is unlikely to ever run the ball all that well. The OL isn’t particularly strong drive blocking, they don’t have a FB on the roster, none of the TEs can block (in fact it does not appear that any of the TEs can do much of anything particularly well), while they don’t have a true #1 feature back that can make can the jump-cut into a secondary whole and make yardage on his own.

In fact, what McAdoo is going to have to do is identify what the team actually does well and build around that. And what this team is built to do is throw the ball. Indeed, the strength of the team is a deep receiver corps featuring three really good WRs – including one great one – along with some decent complimentary receivers. Roger Lewis, for example, has gotten many snaps, but has made plays when given the chance. And the fact that Dwayne Harris has only had a handful of snaps is another real poser after he caught 36 passes including 4 for scores as a late-season injury replacement last year. One would have thought that if nothing else the Giants would want to get him 5-6 touches a game on bubble screens, reverses and crossing routes and the like just to give defenses something else to think about. Instead, they appear to be paying him $3.6M per year to down KOs in the end zone and return the occasional punt.

Bottom line it’s just not that hard to make the case that the most effective base offense for the Giants to run is likely going to be a 4-receiver set. In fact, it is really perplexing why they haven’t run any 4-WR sets at all this year. Even on 3rd and longs all they have done is flex one of their TEs out wide and had him running routes literally as an extra WR. If you are going to do that why not use an actual WR there who can actually run and catch! Meanwhile, we wouldn’t be the first to suggest that the Giants’ TEs – and especially designated starter Larry Donnell who just may be the worst starter if not the worst player in the league period – are contributing next to nothing on other downs too.

The counter argument, of course, that many fans are going to make is if you don’t use a TE – and there is no rule in the NFL that says a team has to have a TE on the field, we checked – who is going to block. Who is going to block who? On the one hand, the Giants’ TEs aren’t blocking anyone anyway! At gthe same time, if a puts four wides on the field, the defense almost by definition has to counter by putting out a 4th corner. They also almost by definition have to put both safeties over the top. That means they’ll have just 5 guys to bring up into the box. And that should give you some opportunities to take your quick RBs like Rainey and Perkins and try and pop them through the LOS for some big gainers.

Speaking of the RBs, one of the Giants other strengths is that they have three guys – Jennings, Rainey and Perkins – who are all very good receivers and they need to be more involved in the passing game as more than just check-down outlets. In fact, both Rainey and Perkins appear to be quick, elusive backs in space with big-play potential. SO GET THEM THE BALL IN SPACE!

In the end, though, as noted above, the strength of the Giants’ offense are the WRs. And that’s where the offense has to start, especially Odell Beckham. In fact, it was kind of frustrating watching the tapes of the past 2-3 games and seeing him lined up on the outside with the corner lined up 8-9 yards off the LOS and going into full back peddle as soon as the ball was snapped. The defenses were literally conceding a 5-6 yard pitch and catch on almost every play, but for whatever reason Eli hardly ever looked that way. However, if they are simply going to give you those 5-6 yards you have to take them. Certainly seems potentially more productive than hitting one’s head against the wall running for 1-2 yards, especially on first down. Then if the corner moves up you go over the top. And if the other team is doubling Beckham then that means almost by definition, there has to be a mismatch somewhere else that you have to take advantage of.

(*Just a note on the remaining strength of schedule. The Giants really have to try and make some hay over the next month as their next 4 opponents have a winning record of under .300. That’s not a misprint as the get the one-win Bears and winless Browns on back-to-back dates on November 20th and 27th respectively. Indeed, the Giants almost by definition need to win three of the next four to have any realistic shot at the post-season as all 5 of their final opponents have winning records in a group that has an overall winning percentage of 64%. Ouch)

Chicken Little on the prowl

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.