Collapsing

With the NFL’s lockout ending I thought I would put up a football post:

Something that has bothered me a lot during Tom Coughlin’s tenure as head coach is how poorly this team plays in the second half of the season. The lone season they performed well in the second half was 2007 when they won the SuperBowl, and even then I wouldn’t say they avoided the second half collapse we’ve come to expect.

In 2007 they started the season like almost every other season at 6-2 . They finished that season 10-6, posting a 4-4 record in the second half. Their victories came against the Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills. Only the victory against the Bills was by more than six points. Of those teams, only one of them had more than 7 wins, and that team was the Eagles at 8-8. Not really anything inspiring. Making matters worse, 2007 was the only season the Giants have won a playoff game under Coughlin.

So what is it about these teams that causes them to collapse?

I think the common point most people turn to is injuries. To their credit, 2007 was probably the healthiest they have ever been in the second half. That doesn’t really explain why they played so poorly before the second half of the Bills game that season. Remember, when playing the Redskins a week before, Eli Manning threw so many incompletions he made JaMarcus Russell look good. (I’m half convinced someone told Russell to watch tape of a SuperBowl winning quarterback and he accidentally stumbled on this game tape. It would explain why he didn’t think he needed to improve on his 48.8 completion percentage) That was also the season Eli completed more touchdown passes to the Vikings defensemen than his own receivers in thier game. In addition, I don’t think injuries caused the Giants to miss the playoffs this past season.

I used to think the Giants’ problems were with Eli’s poor performances in the wind in December; however, Eli has been arguably the most consistent part of this team in both 2009 and 2010. I’d even say he was the best part of the team in 2009.

This has caused me to try to think of another explanation: The Giants’ play-calling. Let’s be honest. The Giants really have not had stellar coordinators in the past couple years. John Hufnagel was terrible and so was Tim Lewis. Kevin Gilbride hasn’t been a lot better, and I still have reservations about Perry Fewell. The only years I was confident with a coordinator was 2007 and 2008. That coach of course was Steve Spagnuolo. While they collapsed with him as coordinator in 2008, that was entirely on the offense.

The biggest problem I have seen with the coordinators is their lack of adjustment. When Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick were coaching the Giants, they were spectacular at understanding what the other team was trying to do and adjusting. This has not been the case with coordinators under Coughlin.

I think the best way to show this, is the fact that whenever the Giants start to play poorly, they never turn it around. In 2006 they started 6-2 and finished 8-8. Those two wins came against an injury riddled Panthers team and a abysmal Redskins team that finished 5-11. In 2008, after the offense was stymied by the Eagles, the only win came against a Panthers team that bombed worse than the Giants in the playoffs. In 2009, they won three games after the Saints exposed them in their sixth contest of the season. My point is, aside from the playoff run in 2007, when this team starts to play poorly they never turn it around. That screams lack of adjustment.

In 2007 the big adjustment was inserting Bradshaw into the lineup and trying to pound the ball with the run, a strategy that worked well into the 2008 season. Of course Bradshaw only made it into the lineup because of an injury to Ward and a lack of a better option (even though he was spectacular every time he saw the field. It astonished me how stubborn the Giants were being with his playing time. I hate to say it, but thank god for Ward’s injury. That could be the reason we eventually won the SuperBowl) It also didn’t hurt that Eli matured significantly during those playoffs, severely limiting his turnovers compared to his career averages.

This season was the worst

case of poor adjustment. Early in the season the Giants were guilty of several turnovers. Instead of addressing this issue Gilbride mainly kept his offense the same, which lead to more and more turnovers throughout the season. I just couldn’t understand why Gilbride didn’t make the offense simpler. Perhaps this isn’t fair, but there have been a few people who point out that Gilbride’s offense is one of the most complex in the league. This can have its advantages, but when your young receivers are having trouble staying on the same page as your quarterback, you need to make a change. Gilbride never did and the turnovers kept coming.

On defense the Giants lost because teams realized they could attack the overaggressive safeties. When Spags had trouble at safety he devised ways to protect the back end of the defense. I will never forget the games against the Eagles and Bears in 2007. The offense was sputtering and the entire season could have been lost, but Spags kept his defense up to the task and, with Craig Dahl and Michael Johnson at safety, the defense kept the Eagles and Bears to 13 and 16 points respectively. Wow.

I truly believe if the last game this season was against a better team than Rex Grossman and the Redskins, the Giants would’ve been torched for the third consecutive week. Listen, I like Fewell. He is a huge upgrade over Sheridan (then again who isn’t), but he hasn’t wowed me yet. I don’t think the Giants have won a single game BECAUSE of him. Then again, it was his first season with the team, and I have to believe with another year he should be able to mold this defense into one of the top units in the league.

For better or worse the Giants chances in 2011 are hanging on their coordinators ability to make adjustments. They are clearly a top 3 team in terms of talent. Now can the coaches mold that talent into a SuperBowl winning team.

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