Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
14 Jan 2008
compiled by Doug Farrar
Each weekend, the FO staff sends around e-mails to each other, both during and after the games. It lets us share ideas for columns and comments, and get an idea of how teams that we can't watch are playing. Be aware that the material in this roundtable might seem a bit disjointed and un-edited. It also might still show up later in the week in other columns, or in comments in PFP 2008. If you missed the Audibles which covered the AFC divisional playoff games, you'll find it here.
Aaron Schatz: It's annoying when they play the same promotional commercials over and over during a game -- "You're risking a patient's life here," "Her father is the district attorney!" etc. It is even more annoying when they have the little graphics dance across the bottom of the screen to promote some show, especially when the graphics actually block out part of a play.
But we reached the absolute nadir of network promotion at the start of today's FOX pregame show, when they cut in promos for "Sarah Connor Chronicles" as if the "Connors" were breaking into the network feed.
Curt Menefee is trying to do a simple open, promoting the Packers-Seahawks game, and he can't even finish a sentence. You know, just in case we were going to miss the commercials for "Sarah Connor Chronicles" which would run every 20 minutes for the next four hours. Menefee is talking about Brett Favre and the FOX visual is a Terminator skull. What the hell? At some point, don't the guys from FOX Sports need to stand up to the guys from FOX Entertainment and say "enough's enough?"
Doug Farrar: Well, THAT's an interesting start to the game. Two Green Bay fumbles, two Seattle touchdowns to start the game. And just so we know we're not dreaming up in Seattle, Deion Branch goes down after apparently being injured in a collision with imaginary gophers. He's just running a route, no contact, and pling! Down he goes with what looks like a knee thing -- later word infers that it might be ligament damage. Seattle's line is pass-blocking very well at the start.
On the Bobby Engram touchdown, I still say that force-outs need to be reviewable, although that would have taken Seattle's second score off the board.
Stuart Fraser: You don't think Engram would have got down in-bounds had he not been thrown out by the defender? Moreover, you don't think the Seahawks would have scored eventually anyway? A shootout in the snow at Lambeau Field. I dunno what I was expecting, but this is a surprise.
Ryan Wilson: Ryan Grant is on pace for 115 fumbles today. I think that would be a playoff record.
Sean McCormick: That can't be how Ryan Grant envisioned the game going when he got out of bed this morning.
Stuart Fraser: I dunno, it kind of reminds me about something an old school friend used to say about wishing in small print. "In my dream scenario, I'd make two huge momentum-changing plays with my first three touches, leading to double-digit lead." (Well, assuming Hass and Co. come through on the drive, anyway.) He only forgot to specify "for Green Bay."
Bill Barnwell: That Nick Barnett play on Seattle's second drive wasn't pass interference; that was pass abuse. Or pass violence.
Doug Farrar: Seattle runs a zone blitz on Green Bay's first drive, with Patrick Kerney falling into coverage, which leads to a long uncovered run after catch by James Jones on the other side. I really don't like the idea of Seattle blitzing Brett Favre a great deal. He's very tough to pressure, and the margin for error that blitzing leaves behind doesn't favor the Seahawks in this case. They need to trust their linebackers and safeties, who cover short routes very well. You can see right away why the Pack led the NFL in yards after catch -- they've got these big, rangy guys who can accelerate out of their cuts and head upfield very quickly. Great blockers, as well. Great touchdown drive response by Green Bay.
Sean McCormick: Terrific communication between Favre and Greg Jennings on that touchdown pass. It looked like it was supposed to be a fade but the corner (Kelly Jennings) was playing outside technique and took it away. Most times that will result in a quarterback chucking it up anyway and hoping for the best, but both Favre and Greg Jennings saw the coverage and adjusted the pattern and the throw to attack on the inside.
Doug Farrar: I think Favre was pointing out a huge (literally) mismatch on his left side. I'm sorry, but Kelly Jennings cannot cover Greg Jennings one-on-one with no safety help. He's giving up about a foot in height and what looks like 50 pounds.
Bill Barnwell: Moose Johnston just pointed out that it was a run play that was audibled at the line. It looks like, maybe, there was still a little miscommunication on what exactly the pattern was going to be. One of the things I'm noticing is how well the Packers wideouts sell on play action, especially Donald Driver. On the rollout and throw to Donald Lee, Driver had a gorgeous sell of a run block before heading out and occupying the safety's attention long enough to create space for Lee.
(With 5:04 left in the first quarter, Favre throws over the middle to Bubba Franks, who seems to rumble for a first down on third-and-7 from the Green Bay 39. The short spot is reversed on review. First down, Packers.)
Stuart Fraser: Does anybody other than me think that the challenge of the spot on that screen to Franks was a really dumb idea? Sure, it's not the best spot ever, but these rarely get overturned and in any case, dude, it's a fourth-and-6 inches or so. Seattle's defensive line doesn't fill me with foreboding at the thought of a fourth-and-short conversion.
Doug Farrar: Well, score one for Brett Favre and TundraVision. My only objection is that I don't think it was conclusive that he was not down before he extended his arm, which is supposed to be the basis for overturning the spot. I wouldn't have argued if the original spot had given Green Bay a first down, though.
That long Ryan Grant run with 2:30 left in the first quarter wasn't about overpursuit -- it was about a devastating block on LeRoy Hill by Bubba Franks. The Seahawks need to draft a tight end who can block like that, without question. What the Seahawks do not need is a tight end who can fumble like Marcus Pollard. Because they already have that.
Sean McCormick: I thought the refs got it right on the review.
Marcus Trufant isn't going to make himself a lot of money in the off-season at this rate. That "tackle" attempt where Ryan Grant jumped right over him was pretty feeble. And he's been soft in coverage so far, too.
Aaron Schatz: Who is this person wearing Atari Bigby's uniform, who suddenly is playing great in pass coverage and not getting called for any penalties?
Bill Barnwell: I think I am going to start throwing things if there's really an Atari Bigby lovefest during this game. Yes, he has "range." The reason he has range is because he's often nowhere near the play. Of course, he did just make a nice play in coverage on Pollard. So I'll grudgingly retract that. On the other hand, Nick Collins appears to be on a mission to overrun every play.
Doug Farrar: Yes, but Pollard's "range" started to decline when he celebrated his 80th birthday.
Ned Macey: I take umbrage when people question former Colts! Pollard was fifth in the league in DVOA this season and has fumbled, get this, five times in his entire career or once every 70 catches. That's just a fluky play, caused largely, I think by the weather, since it appeared Pollard was actually spending too much time worrying about ball control.
Doug Farrar: You may take all the umbrage you wish, sir. I see the selection of a tight end very early in Seattle's 2008 draft.
Aaron Schatz: Let me note that I am not celebrating Bigby's range. I'm celebrating a couple good pass defenses, big hits, and the first time I've seen him play 20 minutes without a flag.
Ned Macey: I also think it will be funny that Grant will be considered a fumbler for the next year or two even though he only fumbled once all regular season.
One week after the Seattle front dominated the Redskins offensive line, they are getting gashed on the ground. Grant is gaining consistent yardage plus the occasional big play. Is it me, or have the Packers completed only like one or two passes on Marcus Trufant? They are attacking Jennings mercilessly, and even when he has good coverage, they seem to be completing passes.
Doug Farrar: This Green Bay offense is very interesting. It starts out short so often and then just explodes at the second level. Pass and run. With the blocking receivers and athletic linemen that can get downfield, it just bulldozes people. As a defense, you think you've got them stopped short and they fool you over and over. Incredibly frustrating to stop.
On Green Bay's first touchdown, I wondered why Kelly Jennings was covering Greg Jennings solo. On Green Bay's third touchdown, I will not ask why Jordan Babineaux was covering Greg Jennings solo, because there is no acceptable answer. Nice Venus De Milo moves there, Jordan.
Aaron Schatz: Mmmmmm ... gummy Jordan Babineaux...
Bill Barnwell: I'm impressed at the job Mark Tauscher is doing on Kerney. Kerney's been completely silent in the first half.
Aaron Schatz: And they aren't doubling much either. It's mostly just Tauscher, one-on-one.
Vince Verhei: The announcers touched on this at the end of the half, but Seattle's defensive tackles are getting manhandled for maybe the first time all year. They're getting no pressure up the middle, and I'm not looking at play-by-play, but it feels like every run is getting at least 3 yards. They're not getting any pressure from the edges either. Favre is hanging back and nonchalantly looking over the zone, finding and hitting open guys. I don't like the idea of blitzing Favre either, but we can say for certain that rushing four and dropping seven isn't working. And if the Seahawks are missing tackles, you know at least one of them was by Brian Russell. In this case, it came on one of Grant's big runs from Seattle's 35-yard line or so.
Part of this is that the refs have decided this is another "There is no holding in the playoffs" game. Both teams' blockers are hooking, snatching, tearing down defenders and mostly getting away with it. Favre and the Packers are exploiting that. Matt Hasselbeck and the Seahawks, not so much. Even when they're able to get a wide receiver on a linebacker in coverage, they've lost the matchup. And yes, Atari Bigby is playing his ass off.
Also, Shaun Alexander ain't no kind of threat any more. Breaking news, I know.
Doug Farrar: In the first half, Seattle rushed for six yards on nine attempts. Tim Ruskell, win or lose, your off-season mission is as clear as it could possibly be.
About the penalty thing â€¦ Patrick Kerney was getting held ridiculously in the Redskins playoff game as well. And if the Green Bay secondary is allowed to play physically? Okay, nothing you can do about that. Matt Hasselbeck going off about it does nothing to help. Now if you counter by playing physically and you're getting flagged, THAT's when you have a real complaint. I haven't seen that. Holmgren barking at the officials at the end of the first half was a bad flashback to a game I don't ever care to recall again. Say what you want about officials -- and I've said my share -- but these guys aren't robots. You have to play with the crew as they're calling things, not the way you think they should be calling them. Though they were the least-penalized team in the NFL this year, the Seahawks seem to have a real problem with that.
Heh -- and as I write that, Woodson and Harris both get called for holding on the same play, six minutes into the third quarter. This reminds me of the late calls on the Ravens secondary after they mauled the Pats' receivers all the way through the first half of the Rex Ryan Timeout Game.
Stuart Fraser: If I were to be really cynical, I might suggest that the refs waited until a big Seahawks first down when they knew the holding penalties would be declined, and then decided to call them.
Vince Verhei: On Hasselbeck's third-down incompletion on the first second-half drive, he had wide-open field in front of him to run. He could have hopped on one leg and picked up the first down.
Bill Barnwell: Not true. Atari Bigby's range would've run him down from 30 yards away and made him spontaneously combust.
Sean McCormick: I thought he had room to run, too, but defenses tend to close much faster than you expect when it's a quarterback running with it.
Stuart Fraser: The announcers were treating fourth-and-inches from around midfield as an absolute punting situation for both teams. Was Bill Walsh opposed to going for it? Is it a Holmgren thing? Is it just me, used to the aggressive group of coaches who control the top AFC teams?
Aaron Schatz: Look at the Aggressiveness Index chart in Pro Football Prospectus 2006 and you'll see that for the most part the Walsh and Holmgren line of coaches shows up very low on the list. Oddly the exceptions are the guys who were defensive coordinators for the teams on that line, like George Seifert and Ray Rhodes.
This is the kind of observation that might just be a case of your memory being tricked by recent events, but it seems to me that we always said that you could use a lower-round pick or undrafted guy at running back and get good numbers as long as he was behind a good offensive line. What amazes me about the running backs who "came out of nowhere" this year is the skills that they have which clearly have nothing to do with their offensive lines, and you wonder how nobody ever noticed that these guys were good. Earnest Graham, the way he always pushes forward for extra yardage. Ryan Grant, the way he hurdles guys and fakes out safeties. Brandon Jacobs, how on earth he lasted until the fourth round I have no idea. And so on.
Sean McCormick: Playing for Northern Illinois might have something to do with it.
Aaron Schatz: Are the Seahawks contractually obligated to run Shaun Alexander into a pile for two yards once every five plays? And has the Seattle defense made a play at all since those two fumbles?
Doug Farrar: Yes, and no. But the suckitude of the Seattle run-blocking has been this team's Achilles' heel for two seasons.
Pollard whiffs a ball in the end zone with four minutes left in the third quarter, as Tony Siragusa begins a sentence as follows: "I played with Marcus Pollard in Indianapolisâ€¦"
Ned Macey: After my Marcus Pollard defense in the first half, I must note after two more drops (one in the end zone and one on fourth down) that what is likely his last game as a Seahawk has to be the worst game of his life.
There was something on the Pro Football Reference blog last week about the fact that the supposed advantage of the bye isn't that big a deal -- mostly it is just better teams winning at home. Still, I feel there is always a game or two like this were one team that is slightly better than its opponent just destroys them. It's been 42-6 after the two Grant fumbles, no meaningful punts by the Packers.
For all the talk about Hasselbeck's complaining, they never really showed us the Packers' secondary being physical. They showed the play right afterwards that was incomplete to Nate Burleson, but Al Harris appeared legal on that play. I can't wait for the days when we have coach's film to watch. In such a pass-happy era, we are so limited as analysts because we only see what is going on with the intended receiver. Al Harris may have held on 80 percent of the plays or 5 percent, but we have no idea.
Aaron Schatz: And with 12:34 left in the fourth quarter, on fourth-and-2, we have our official Gregg Easterbrook "why are you punting?" moment. Game over. Seattle-Green Bay game summarized in one sentence: The Seattle defensive line was as bad this week as they were good last week.
Vince Verhei: I'd like to thank the FOX crew for using a sideline cam during LIVE ACTION for several plays at the end of the third quarter. This made it impossible, for example, to note Green Bay's off-balance offensive line on Grant's big run (well, his latest big run) until they showed it to us on replay. My day as a Seahawks fan looks pretty much ruined, now they're going out of their way to make sure my day as a football fan is shot to hell too. So thanks, FOX. I appreciate it.
Something Doug wrote about earlier this year: The Seahawks' tendency to overpurse opens giant holes for cutback runs. How many of Grant's yards came on runs where he broke back against the flow of the play?
Doug Farrar: Someone e-mailed me asking if I thought the horrid run defense had anything to do with the weather conditions. Footing was a problem, as was Seattle's difficulty with cutbacks, as were the Green Bay two-fullback or fullback/tight end formations -- the inverse wishbone, U Formation, or whatever it's called. But the big thing is that the Packers' receivers and tight ends just block very, very well. This is obviously heavily ingrained as a skill of crucial importance from the first day you're a Packer. That's what makes them tough despite all the passing craziness. Ryan Grant would hit a cutback, Lofa Tatupu or Leroy Hill would come up to plug it, and boom! There's Bubba Franks with the block to keep the lane open.
Seattle was horrible with outside contain in this game â€“- very obviously out of position far too often. Ryan Grant likes to bounce outside. Many backs do, and usually, Seattle has the personnel to respond. It's hard to take down a running back with a head of steam (unless his name is Shaun Alexander) when you're trying to recover from bad positioning, slick field or no. Not really a news flash.
Bill McCartney used to say that "Defense is about knowing where your help is." Very little help on Seattle's defense in this game, when working in tandem is what has defined them. Guys weren't together at all. The images I'll take away from this game are Patrick Kerney yelling at teammates on the other side of the field to get in their correct positions, and the look on Brett Favre's face when he saw Kelly Jennings playing man on Greg Jennings on that early touchdown. Deon Grant ranked first in Stop Rate against the run among all NFL safeties, but he was nonexistent in this game.
That said, this was just as much about what the Packers did to the Seahawks as what they did to themselves. Sometimes, you just get waxed by a better team, and you have throw out the stats and look at what needs fixing in the off-season.
Bill Barnwell: Since no one asked, here's my preview of this game. The Cowboys went after Eli Manning with their linebackers in Week 10, like they do with most teams, and the Giants exploited it with Jeremy Shockey being matched up in man against Roy Williams. Now, the Giants don't have Jeremy Shockey. End of preview.
I like the Giants' game plan early on, in that they're trying to run at DeMarcus Ware, but it's going to be a long day if Plaxico Burress can't get open. I'd like to see them run more max protect and try and take some shots at Ken Hamlin and Roy Williams ("We were Pro Bowlers, honest!") with some double-moves, but if Burress isn't getting open on the slant, the hitch-and-go isn't going to work.
Vince Verhei: Did I just see the Giants doctor wearing a tweed jacket and cap? Did Wellington Mara hire this man when he took over the team in 1966?
I think it was Dr. Z at Sports Illustrated who described Marion Barber best: He runs angry. He treats every carry as if it were his last, pushing, scrapping, striving for every inch. May not lead to a long career, but it sure is effective. In fact, I wonder if that's why he's been coming off the bench all season, because they knew his style makes him vulnerable to injury. And now, in the playoffs, where it's win or else, starting him is worth the risk.
Doug Farrar: Shaun Alexander, on the other hand, runs pouty.
Vince Verhei: So after a weekend filled with long, slow drives, Dallas gets the king of them all: a 20-play, 10-plus-minute death march capped by a Barber touchdown. There were some stuffed runs and incompletes mixed in there, but they converted an astounding six third downs to pull it off. That's what this game plan forces offenses to do: Execute over and over again, and the Cowboys did, leaving the Giants less than two minutes to answer.
And then Eli Manning says, "SCREW THIS!" and quickly makes big throw after big throw to lead the team down the field for a touchdown. The Cowboys were rushing four and generally not getting there, giving him time to find guys, and find them he did. He threw one incompletion, a high pass in the end zone that resembled a classic Eli overthrow, but I actually think it was a smart play, throwing the ball away when nobody was open. The touchdown pass to Amani Toomer with just seven seconds to go was another smart play. Toomer was basically coming across the goal line, and there was a slim chance he could have been tackled before getting there. But that's OK, because the Giants had one timeout left. Eli, knowing this, didn't have to worry about the clock expiring at the goal-line, a la the Titans-Rams Super Bowl. Great drive by the younger Manning.
Aaron Schatz: There seem to be three main stories through the first half: The Giants offense is playing more like they did the last two weeks, not the first 15; the Dallas defense is playing more like they did the last month, not the first three; and Marion Barber is quite the talented player and not starting him all this time was stupid. I haven't seen a lot of controversy. The Dallas offense may only have 14 points but it doesn't really look like they're struggling. This is our fourth straight game with long, extended drives where both offenses seem to be playing pretty well.
Bill Barnwell: Is there anyone who's a bad matchup against Roy Williams in man coverage? They're lining up Kevin freaking Boss one-on-one against Williams outside. And somehow, he's a Pro Bowler.
The thing for the Giants is that their front four absolutely, positively needs to rush Tony Romo into making a mistake. Not just stopping them, but pressure resulting in a turnover. And they haven't yet, outside of the play where Corey Webster showed off his ball skills.
Both these teams should really be in max protect formations. Each of their secondaries are suspect and the only thing that's really going to muck up their offense is a sack. I'd keep eight, nine guys in and let my wideouts and tight end (well, Jason Witten) go attack the mediocre cover guys that are assigned against them.
Meanwhile, the Giants remain competitive pretty much entirely owing to awful tackling by the Cowboys, both on defense and special teams.
Doug Farrar: Boy, Patrick Crayton's third-and-13 drop late in the third quarter was a real killer. New York scored on their subsequent drive, and I wonder if I haven't just seen three of four games this weekend turn on dropped passes. Pollard, Northcutt, Crayton.
Aaron Schatz: Romo had Patrick Crayton on that third down. Had him. He had Corey Webster beat. Timing was completely off.
Ryan Wilson: It looked like Crayton quit running around the 10- or 15-yard line, and then turned it on when he saw the ball was coming his way. If he doesn't slow up, there's a much better chance he makes that catch, because Romo put it in a pretty good spot.
Michael David Smith: I would argue that the Colts-Chargers game turned on a dropped pass, too; if Kenton Keith catches that ball instead of having it bounce off his hands for an interception, I think the Colts win.
Vince Verhei: I haven't watched a ton of Giants games this year. Does Brandon Jacobs celebrate every touchdown by throwing the ball as hard as he can against a wall and/or shot clock? He did this last week against Tampa Bay too.
Bill Barnwell: In Brandon Jacobs' world, the play clock is a scourge waiting to be exterminated. No idea why. Crayton's drop doesn't matter if the Cowboys don't ankle-tackle R.W. McQuarters on the punt return. Much more egregious play.
Aaron Schatz: Remarkable how the Giants have keyed on Barber in the second half. They're swarming him immediately on every handoff.
Bill Barnwell: It's seriously annoying me, though. It seems so obvious. Go full house, play action, send Witten out there against Kawika Mitchell. Repeat.
Aaron Schatz: Hats off to the Giants. "Eli Manning is growing up" sounds so clichÃ©d, but it does seem somewhat true. This is reminding me a lot of the 2003 Carolina Panthers. Their quality of play in the postseason does not retroactively turn their regular-season wins into dominant three-touchdown victories. That's not how it works.
Doug Farrar: Manning was able to respond and set the pace at the end of the first half, and there were very few of those "right in the lumberyard" throws.
Bill Barnwell: Wow. As a fan, I'm happy. As a analyst, I'm shocked. I mean, essentially, what we saw was a confluence of several things, namely superior special teams, an awesome second half from the front seven, luck (namely running into two teams whose star wideouts have been banged up), and a really solid offensive game plan both weeks.
This was also the bad Tony Romo game that people warned would happen. He was trying to make plays at the wrong time, struggling with his reads, and making throws off his back foot. He looked more like Eli Manning than Eli himself, who seemed cool and collected even under a heavy pass rush, eating the ball when he needed to. I'll have more thoughts later, but I'm going to go celebrate.
Doug Farrar: Since I don't watch the Giants every week, two guys I haven't seen a lot this year that our numbers like: Fred Robbins and Justin Tuck. I'm very impressed by both players. Once New York started getting pressure in the second half, you could feel it slipping away. I hope that Steve Spagnuolo gets some credit and a few namechecks this offseason when everyone's praying to statues of Jason Garrett.
Bill Barnwell: Robbins is a product of Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora (and Tuck), as he constantly has just one blocker to worry about. Giants defensive tackles often have great numbers in our PBP metrics, but that doesn't match up with their reputation or performance when they leave (I'm thinking Kendrick Clancy or William Joseph here).
Aaron Schatz: This is what is known as the "Antwan Odom effect."
Bill Barnwell: Tuck also sees a lot of single blockers, but he's a beast, a consummate pass rusher with the speed to close down running backs on pitches designed to go by him. He's not a complete end yet, but he's really, really freaking good. Arguably better than Strahan at this point.
I think one of the things that we don't see in play-by-play is that the Giants can roll out an elite pair of defensive ends and pass rush from their front four on every down. Offensive linemen never get to take a play off against a middling rusher, and there's not a team in the league you can say that about otherwise.
What's impressed me about Spagnuolo is his ability to adapt his scheme as the year's gone on to his personnel. After the utter failure that was the first two-and-a-half games, he's done a great job of getting his best players on the field, and as often as possible, in the roles that fit them best. He's been brave enough (assuming he deserves some credit for this) to bench Corey Webster when he was embarrassing at corner and to move Mathias Kiwanuka around after it was obvious the linebacker experiment was failing. I don't know if he's a head coach yet, but he's a legitimate defensive coordinator.
So, what do you do now? Tom Coughlin's earned an extension, no?
Aaron Schatz: The thing about the Giants pass rush is that this was there all year long. They finished first in Adjusted Sack Rate by a healthy margin. So the presence of the pass rush really does nothing to explain what changed in the past three weeks. That's one of the two things that HASN'T changed. (The other: The running game has been good all season.) To me it really is about the passing game. Here are the Giants' offensive passing DVOA ratings since Week 12:
12 (MIN): -76.4%
13 (CHI): -19.0%
14 (PHI): 19.6%
15 (NYG): -29.9%
16 (BUF): -137.6%
17 (NE): 61.6%
18 (TB): 103.6%
19 (DAL): 52.2%
The Giants were one of two teams that had an offensive turnover in every single regular-season game (along with Houston). They don't have a single turnover in the two playoff games.
Weeks 1-16: Eli Manning completes 56 percent of his passes, with 19 touchdowns and 19 interceptions.
Weeks 17-19: Eli Manning completes 70 percent of his passes, with 8 touchdowns and 1 interception.
Ned Macey: I would add last year's Colts defense to Aaron's Carolina analogy. The good news for the Giants is that both of those seemingly out-of-character performances lasted all the way through the Super Bowl.
I think it is no surprise that the one dominant half of defensive football turned in all weekend came when the Giants' front started dominating. The common theme in all the other games was that there was plenty of time for quarterbacks. The only chance that either road team has next week is to dominate the line of scrimmage defensively. These are the two best pass rushes in football, but they're going against two quarterbacks who are nearly impossible to sack.
Finally, in the Giants' defense, they're playing with a hobbled number one receiver and still making plays on offense.
I fear that Tony Romo may equal Daunte Culpepper in his prime: a good-to-very-good quarterback who looks extraordinary because of his top wideout.
Aaron Schatz: One more note on the weird, sudden improvement of the Giants over the past three weeks: People keep talking about how amazing it is that the Giants are 9-1 on the road. People forget the flip side: This team was 3-5 at home, and two of those wins came against the 49ers and Jets. That's amazing too, only not in a good way. Why the dichotomy? I have no idea.
Doug Farrar: Last week, we had a "Trend or Fluke" discussion about Norv Turner and Eli Manning. Where are we now? The weight of history has me hesitating just a bit on Norvalicious, but I'm starting to think that Eli will outrun that Jay Schroeder comparison I've had in my head. And if the Chargers shock the world, it WILL change my mind about Norv, because I believe that it would be absolutely, literally impossible for a poorly-coached team to beat the Patriots this season unless there is one obvious injury. He's earned some respect with this run because his team didn't just tank it and lose their first playoff game, but that would put Norv past the "it's just the players" argument once and for all.
Vince Verhei: We have 10 years of mediocrity to look back on, so we can safely assume that the last two games are a fluke for Norv. And really, what have we seen in those two games to indicate he's a brilliant coach? What new game plans or schemes has he unveiled? I guess you can give him credit for the way Philip Rivers played today, but Rivers also looked good before he ever worked with Norv.
Eli, on the other hand, just turned 27. His peak is realistically three years ahead of him, and we may have just seen the light bulb turned on.
Aaron Schatz: I still like the comparisons to Drew Bledsoe or Jim Everett, which I made in this BP chat. Very talented, good enough to lead a team to the Super Bowl or make the Pro Bowl a couple times, but never quite one of the top quarterbacks in the league, because you never know when they'll melt down completely out of nowhere.
Ned Macey: Aaron's comps are probably better, but I've always thought of Manning as sort of a Jake Delhomme in terms of quality. In the 2003 playoffs, Delhomme was 59-for-102 for 987 yards with six touchdowns and one interception. That run didn't exactly presage some great career, and his previous performance record was much shorter than Manning's, and he was only one year older.
As for Norv, I hate to keep being the pro-Norv guy. I swear I don't think he is a great coach, but what did he do today? He's an offensive coach that just went into Indianapolis with a hobbled Antonio Gates and proceeded to lose LaDainian Tomlinson in the first half and Rivers in the third quarter. Against the No. 3 pass defense in DVOA, they scored 28 points and averaged 13.6 yards per pass. Now, either Norv had an amazing game plan, or Dwight Freeney is the best pass defender in football.
145 comments, Last at 16 Jan 2008, 1:53am by Eugene