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The question is not whether Saquon Barkley is the best running back in this draft class. The question is whether any running back, even one as good as Barkley, warrants a top-five draft selection in the NFL in 2018.

23 Jan 2008

Scramble for the Ball: Little Murders

by Bill Barnwell

Certainly, the Giants team that has won out in the playoffs on its way to next Sunday's Super Bowl bears little resemblance to the team that stumbled its way through an uneven regular season. New York had one constant throughout its season, though: Its excellent pass rush, which sacked quarterbacks on 9.78 percent of all dropbacks through Week 16, a staggering number.

If I told you that the Giants would make the Super Bowl at that juncture of the season, you'd obviously imagine that their defining characteristic, their awesome pass rush, would maintain or even improve upon that performance. Instead, the Giants have done nothing of the sort.

In the Week 17 loss to the Patriots and three playoff games since then, quarterbacks have dropped back 156 times against the Giants. They've been sacked four -- four -- times. That's an anemic 2.56 percent.

Granted, the Giants have played some pretty effective offensive lines in that time. By Adjusted Sack Rate, they played the first, fourth, seventh, and 24th-ranked lines in the league, but a drop that precipitous is very strange for this defense, which has protected a somewhat cushy secondary all season.

It's even stranger that the aforementioned secondary has tightened up to the point where they look not only competent, but effective in recent weeks, even without Sam Madison at 100 percent, but that's what has happened. Of course, while the secondary has been lucky to face the offenses of Tampa Bay and Dallas while they were struggling with injuries, they'll be with no such luck against New England (assuming Tom Brady's foot issue is a minor one). It's a specific matchup in the secondary that represents the first in a series of matchups I think will define the game.

Giants CB R.W. McQuarters vs. Patriots WR Wes Welker

Assuming that Madison has recovered back to around 100 percent for the Super Bowl, he'll likely draw the role of matching up one-on-one versus Randy Moss, as Madison takes most of the snaps versus the opposition's No. 1 wideout. If Madison isn't ready, Corey Webster would take that role, which would be terrifying.

Webster could also theoretically play as the nickelback and line up against Welker in the slot, but it doesn't fit his skill set -- Webster is quick, but he doesn't have great technique and he's an awful tackler. That's exactly the kind of player Welker eats up. If the Giants harbor any delusions of covering Welker with one of their linebackers, well, he'll be Super Bowl MVP. Welker caught 11 passes for 122 passes in the first game between these two teams.

That leaves McQuarters, who's actually a very good fit for covering Welker. The Giants' ideal plan is to stay in the nickel most of the time, playing a 4-2-5, allowing them to keep their best defensive linemen on the field while matching up against the Patriots' core three- and four-WR sets. McQuarters is still fast and agile, and while he's never been a player with great technique, he's a good corner against slot receivers and a stout defender in run support. The Giants ranked ninth in the league against No. 3 and deeper wideouts this year, and McQuarters had a good portion to do with that. He's the Giants' best bet for singling Welker throughout the game.

Patriots RT Nick Kaczur vs. Giants LE Michael Strahan/Justin Tuck

Kaczur was better in the first half of the season, but as the season has gone along, he's regressed back to his previous role as the weak link of the Patriots offense, if not the entire team. It's not that Kaczur has one obvious weakness, but instead that he's just limited at tackle. He can occasionally be duped with a twist, and while he's a big lineman, faster ends can get around him. He's also a better run blocker than a pass blocker, which provides opportunities for both Strahan and Tuck to get at Brady. Both Giants linemen are superior athletes to Kaczur, with an assortment of moves that should cause him problems.

The issue here is not necessarily simply that Kaczur will get Justice'd, but instead that if Kaczur struggles, the Patriots will need to start using more two-tight end sets with Kyle Brady or shifting their protection towards the right side of the line, allowing Osi Umenyiora the chance to come in on the left.

How did Kaczur handle the Giants in Week 17? He didn't: he was out, replaced by backup Ryan O'Callaghan. So this is one matchup we haven't seen yet on the field.

Giants RG Chris Snee vs. Patriots DT Vince Wilfork

In my chat on Baseball Prospectus last week, I threw out my All-Pro offensive line for the season. The right guard on that line was Snee, who's graduated from being Tom Coughlin nepotista into one of the finest guards in football. Time after time in breaking down Giants games, I saw Snee stagger a defensive lineman or get to the second level and waste a linebacker or safety. Snee's job here, along with center Shaun O'Hara and right tackle Kareem McKenzie, is going to be to handle the combination of Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren, depending upon how the Giants decide to double-team players on the line. I suspect that Wilfork, who's had the best season of the three, will get the most attention, but Snee might be good enough to handle Wilfork single-handedly. Either way, expect a majority of the Giants running plays to go behind Snee and McKenzie.

Giants WR Plaxico Burress vs. Patriots CB Asante Samuel

Burress didn't dominate the Patriots in Week 17 like he did Al Harris and the Packers last week, but he did score twice. Having two weeks off to rest his ankle can only help, and if Burress is even close to 100 percent, he represents something the Patriots might struggle to account for: height. Samuel is 5-10, while Ellis Hobbs is 5-9. You'd have to figure that the Patriots will try and make Amani Toomer and Steve Smith beat them by doubling Burress on virtually every play, with Samuel playing underneath coverage inside against the slant, and probably James Sanders up top shadowing the deeper throws. In what could very likely be his last game in a Patriots uniform, Samuel's got a big load to carry on the defense.

Giants RB Ahmad Bradshaw vs. Patriots Free Blitzers

Yeah, I couldn't work Hole in Zone into the preview, sorry. This is the closest thing. Bradshaw actually reminds me a lot of the way Laurence Maroney looked at the beginning of his rookie season -- this absurdly quick rookie who made cuts that cause you to gasp out loud combined with the occasional bursts of vision that makes those cuts so scary. What makes Maroney more valuable is that he can do those cuts at 5-11, 220 pounds, as opposed to 5-9, 198, but that doesn't mean Bradshaw can't be valuable. If he actually gets out in the passing game, he could give the Patriots linebackers fits in coverage.

On the other hand, he shares a problem with Maroney: He's not an asset as a pass blocker, at least not yet. Unlike Maroney, Bradshaw usually knows where he needs to be, but because of his size and inexperience, he doesn't have the ability to do much more than wave his arms and attempt to distract an oncoming rusher. Keep in mind that if Bradshaw has to pick up, say, Mike Vrabel on a blitz, he'll be giving up 60 pounds. The only thing that can make that work is great technique, and Bradshaw simply doesn't have that yet. That's going to limit his ability to stay in the field on passing downs, which is a problem for the Giants, as it's exactly when Bradshaw could do the most damage. If there was ever a spot the Giants wished they could have Tiki Barber back, third-down back would be the place.

Patriots KR Ellis Hobbs vs. Giants kickoff coverage team

When our weekly prop bet column comes out next week, one of the things I'll be betting heavily on is a Hobbs kickoff return for a touchdown. The Patriots kickoff returns were worth 11 points above average on the season, fifth-best in the league, while the Giants' kickoffs was worth -6 points, "good" for 26th.

That's not exactly a guaranteed touchdown by any means, but it is more likely than the Giants getting a repeat touchdown from Domenick Hixon while Patriots distance machine Stephen Gostkowski is enjoying the thin Arizona air. The kickoff issue is likely to rear its head is with short fields for the Patriots, and with Hobbs' abilities as a return man, it's not unreasonable to take a chance on one going to the house -- with the right odds, of course. That will have to wait until next week, though.

Check out the Football Outsiders comics archive and Jason's wacky Gil Thorp blog.

Playoff Draft Update

It represents a testament to the brilliance of Jason Beattie that our resident cartoonist can lead the Playoff Fantasy Draft with 170 points despite top pick Randy Moss mustering all of three points through two weeks, with one of his two points last week coming on a reverse. On the other hand, this playoff draft says little good about me, so I'll stop talking about it.

2008 Football Outsiders Playoff Fantasy Teams
  SEAN 153 TIM 136 DOUG 162
QB Brady, NE 37 Manning, IND 28 Hasselbeck, SEA 24
RB Barber, DAL 18 Taylor, JAC 14 Jones-Drew, JAC 23
RB Davenport, PIT 16 Portis, WAS 7 Jacobs, NYG 36
WR Welker, NE 22 Driver, GB 21 Wayne, IND 13
WR Burress, NYG 18 Chambers, SD 33 Engram, SEA 17
WR Gonzalez, IND 13 Moss, WAS 13 Williams, JAC 4
TE Witten, DAL 8 Gates, SD 5 Stevens, TB 0
K Kaeding, SD 22 Vinatieri, IND 7 Brown, SEA 20
DEF Indianapolis 2 Green Bay 8 Seattle 25
  JASON 170 AARON 141 BILL 59
QB Garrard, JAC 30 Favre, GB 35 Romo, DAL 13
RB Grant, GB 36 Maroney, NE 40 Addai, IND 10
RB Graham, TB 12 Tomlinson, SD 15 Alexander, SEA 13
WR Moss, NE 3 Owens, DAL 10 Galloway, TB 0
WR Jennings, GB 20 Branch, SEA 0 Crayton, DAL 2
WR Gaffney, NE 9 Ward, PIT 13 Harrison, IND 0
TE Clark, IND 15 Watson, NE 13 Lee, GB 10
K Crosby, GB 14 Folk, DAL 5 Gostkowski, NE 10
DEF San Diego 21 New England 10 Tampa Bay 1

Best of the Rest Update

A wild card team in the Super Bowl always means the Best of the Rest teams do well, and unless shenanigans happen, we already have ourselves a winner. Reader "mrh" has a whopping 164 points -- yes, better than five of the Outsiders -- with seven players remaining: Eli Manning, Kevin Faulk, Donte' Stallworth, Amani Toomer, Kevin Boss, Lawrence Tynes, and the New York defense. While "Sean D" is close with 162 points, his only remaining players -- Faulk and Stallworth -- are also on mrh's roster.

The only one left with a chance of catching mrh would be "Mitch," but as he has only Ahmad Bradshaw and Faulk left, Bradshaw would need to outscore mrh's whole team by 13 points in order for Mitch to take home the trophy.

Keep Choppin' Wood Award

I started to write the Lawrence Tynes entry after regulation in Green Bay, but I'll grant Tynes a stay of execution for his mammoth 47-yarder to win it. Instead, KCW goes to Al Harris, who spent the game being abused by Plaxico Burress before the Packers finally took Harris off the gigantic Giants wideout. Harris said this week that he "... lost [his] individual battle" against Burress, which is an understatement of epic proportions.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 23 Jan 2008

36 comments, Last at 07 Feb 2008, 7:55pm by george


by SomeGuy (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 2:08pm

Right now, Rodney Harrison is locked in a room somewhere, looking at a picture of Ahmad Bradshaw and salivating.

by Tom D (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 2:22pm

McQuarters is stout against the run? Since when?

by B (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 2:25pm

How did O’Callaghan do against Strahan/Tuck in week 17? I know he's been used as a TE/6th OL, and if he was able to hold his own against the Giants pass rush, we might see him in a TE spot, with Kyle Brady on the other side. Of course, that would limit the number of receivers the Pats could put on the field.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 2:29pm

Another thing to note is that Stephen Neal missed the previous game, and was replaced with Russ Hochstein. The dropoff between Neal (one of the better guards in the NFL) and Hochstein is quite large.

The Patriots line was a mess in week 17. Its all healthy now.

by ammek (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 2:30pm

Giants were actually the fifth seeds, but cartoons are all about exaggeration, and this one made me chuckle, so it doesn't seem terribly important.

by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 2:38pm

How did O’Callaghan do against Strahan/Tuck in week 17?
So-so. Much of the second half, the Patriots lined up Ben Watson on the right side, and his first move on every snap was to chip the DE.

To quote the estimable Mike Reiss about that game:
In all, the Patriots ran 29 plays [of 68] with either multiple TEs or a TE/FB combination, another indication of the focus on added help in pass protection and tighter formations, especially in the first half (22 of 37 snaps).

(original source linked)

by Rhys (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 2:47pm

3: O’Callaghan and Kyle Brady in a 2TE set with Moss, Welker, and Maroney/Faulk in the backfield could be a perfect setup for Death by a thousand papercuts as seen in the Jacksonville game though. If that can stop the Giants' now flagging pass rush, it should make it easier for a possibly gimpy Brady to just wait for mistakes in coverage.

by JasonK (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 2:51pm

Nice writeup, Bill.

Personally, I really doubt that we'll see Mc1/4ths on Welker much. If everybody is healthy, he's only the fourth or fifth corner. There's a decent chance that Derrick Dockery will be ready for the game, in which case Dockery will likely be the #3 CB (unless Webster's recent heroics have earned him a promotion to that spot). Dockery, at least physically, is a decent matchup for Welker-- he's tiny and quick.

And, regardless of who the #3 CB is, the Giants usually move Aaron Ross into the slot when they go nickel, and line the nickelback up at LCB.

On a completely unrelated not, why on Earth did I, as a Giants fan, pick a Redskins-centric BoTR team?! I guess that just goes to show how surprising this playoff run has been!

by JasonK (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 2:54pm

(not = note)

by mrh (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 3:15pm

Of course, our other Week 18 feature — going back, I believe, to the pre-FO days — is a draft of those players whose teams qualified for the playoffs. As part of the challenge, we leave the opportunity for the readers to pick a “Best of the Rest” team in the comments, using players we’ve neglected to draft for our own teams. If your team beats one of our teams, you get the right to generally condescend anyone you come across, as if you were smarter than them. Particularly if it’s one of us in the draft.

I'll pass on the condescending in return for a year of free Premium access (hint, hint).

I'd like to thank the BOTR "drafters" who posted before me for loading up on Redskins. My plan was to do that, but since I "PLAY TO WIN THE GAME" (TM Herm Edwards), I went with Giants instead.

by Mike W (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 3:15pm

Everyone's forgotten about Derrick Ward, but until he got hurt he was the Giants' best third-down option. He could catch and sort of block. What will the Giants do with their RBs next year?

by shocker (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 3:30pm

#7 -
If the giants put derrick dockery on welker, they're in trouble. I believe derrick is a guard for Buf (giants cb is kevin). Agreed that we'll likely see ross on welker in nickel. Hard to guage the cb depth chart, as the 4-5 guys have been playing well with 1-3 banged up, but ross on welker, madison on moss and dockery/webster on stallworth seems the most likely nickle arangement. Maybe McQ at fs over butler.

#10 - Ward was a solid 3rd down option, but not spectacular. He's a FA, and I bet he gets a solid offer and leaves. If the giants can coach up bradshaws pass blocking, he won't be missed. Jacobs can block, but isn't much of a receiving threat (and has questionable hands).

by andrew (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 3:46pm

"gigantic Giants wideout"

sounds kind of redundant....

by kevinNYC (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 3:48pm

If the Giants CBs are all healthy, RW McQuarters will be guarding the Gatorade bucket on the sideline. Ross, Madison, and Webster will all be on the field ahead of him. Based on what they've done in the playoffs, Corey Webster will get the assignment of covering Randy Moss. Webster has covered the opposing team's top WR because he will have A LOT of safety help. Ross is the CB who lines up in the slot, as he's their best blitzer from the secondary. Consequently, Ross will be the one covering Welker most of the game when they play man coverage.

Bill Barnwell is completely overstating the lack of sacks by the Giants' defense. They've generated significant pressure, although much less against Green Bay than the prior 2 weeks. Jeff Garcia was pounded constantly and Tony Romo took a beating in the 4th quarter.

by JasonK (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 4:33pm

#11: D'oh!

And I agree on the likely CB alignment. R.W. is only going to see the field in some dime sets and PR duty.

by andrew (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 4:40pm

One thing I got to thinking about was what Superbowl champs have gone through as inexperienced a bunch of quarterbacks on their path to the trophy....

Consider the Patriots:

Garrad -> Rivers -> E. Manning

That's 6 years (2 as a starter), 4(2 as a starter) and now 4 (3 as a starter). 14 years, six starting seasons between them. The Giants faced more than that last sunday alone with Favre, not to mention Jeff Garcia before that.

by giant fan (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 4:47pm

7 & 13 have seen many NYG games this season and are on point with their analysis. If McQarters covers Welker, then he will be MVP Welker.

by Independent George (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 5:39pm

if Bradshaw has to pick up, say, Mike Vrabel on a blitz, he’ll be giving up 60 pounds.

I'm not saying that Bradshaw will be able pull this off, but the finest block I've ever seen by a RB was Warrick Dunn stopping Gilbert Brown dead in his tracks.

by Independent George (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 5:43pm

I think people are overstating how badly Harris played; it looked to me like he was playing pretty tight coverage the entire game, but Eli & Plax were playing out of their minds. About all you can expect from a DB is to force the QB & WR play perfectly; there isn't much defense for perfectly placed balls thrown to a 6'5" receiver.

by John (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 9:05pm

Incidently, the part of the cartoon that bothers me the most is the cheering cheerleader section. No Giants cheerleaders. (Excluding a jealous Ashley Simpson (read: Last week over the Cowboys)

by John (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2008 - 9:07pm

By the way, Rodney Harrison is salivating because he can't control himself on all his steriods. The real top safety, (the only consistent trend in prediction the superbowl winner every year) Gibril Wilson, is salivating at the idea of jacking up Randy Moss again, and at all the chances he's gonna get to light up, "Mr. Overrated," Larry Maroney.

by seth (not verified) :: Thu, 01/24/2008 - 12:57am

good article. i would add that though nick kaczur has returned from injury, he may not be at 100%. he seemed to be having a very good year before the injury, but seems to require more tight end help on pass blocking since he came back(that's just an impression and i could be wrong).

by James, London (not verified) :: Thu, 01/24/2008 - 9:35am

"I’m not saying that Bradshaw will be able pull this off, but the finest block I’ve ever seen by a RB was Warrick Dunn stopping Gilbert Brown dead in his tracks."

Maurice Jones-Drew would like to speak to you.

by Eddo (not verified) :: Thu, 01/24/2008 - 5:15pm

This is very much off-topic, but did I miss the voting for the Annual FO Awards? If so, where should I have been looking?

by Dave (not verified) :: Thu, 01/24/2008 - 6:10pm

23: MoJo's stoning of Merriman was awesome, but Merriman is a linebacker and Gilbert Brown was a defensive tackle. Warrick Dunn is arguably a slighter physical specimen than Maurice Jones-Drew, and Gilbert Brown is probably at least 60 or 70 lbs heavier than Merriman. For sheer "David felling Goliath" purposes, I have to give the edge to Dunn v. Brown.

by Nicky P (not verified) :: Fri, 01/25/2008 - 1:54am


Do you happen to know where I can get a clip of the Dunn-Brown takedown?

I can't remember that play. I smoked a lotta Thai sticks back in the day.

I would agree this would be more impressive than the MJD-Merriman blast, but I need to see it first.

Please let me know if you know.

by Independent George (not verified) :: Fri, 01/25/2008 - 10:28am

#26 - I have no idea where I can find a clip of that block; I remember it was a regular-season game between the Bucs & the Packers, but seeing as how they were in the same division that year, that really doesn't narrow it down much. I'd love to get a copy of it, too; does anybody else remember this play?

Brown jumped (or did something resembling a jump with his arms extended) to try and deflect a pass, leaving himself exposed; Dunn then lowered his shoulder drove straight into Brown's gut, doubling him over.

by MJK (not verified) :: Fri, 01/25/2008 - 1:30pm

Incidently, the part of the cartoon that bothers me the most is the cheering cheerleader section. No Giants cheerleaders.

It's right to bother you, but for the wrong reason. The cheerleaders show up in the first frame, where the Giants are celebrating making it to the Superbowl. Hence, they are in Green Bay, and whether or not the Giants have cheerleaders is immaterial.

However, Green Bay also does not have cheerleaders.

by Sid (not verified) :: Fri, 01/25/2008 - 5:29pm

congrats to mrh! the all-giants strategy was the way to go.

by patriotsgirl (not verified) :: Sat, 01/26/2008 - 1:09am

23, 25, 27: I just rewatched that MJD play on YouTube, and noticed something that I'd forgotten. MJD not only took out Merriman - Dobbins (I think) was also rushing the QB, and had to slow down to avoid the flying Merriman (it almost seemed like Dobbins did a double-take). That gave Garrard enough time to unload.

So, MJD essentially took out TWO rushing LBs on the same play - and if we're by going poundage, I think they weigh more combined than even Gilbert Brown. :) Great stuff.

by goathead (not verified) :: Sat, 01/26/2008 - 4:54pm

I'll be surprised if Webster doesn't see significant playing time based on what he's done so far in the playoffs. Wouldn't surprise me at all to see him on Welker, although his tackling ability might lead to problems since Wes quite excels there.

I also wonder if we'll still see McQ returning punts, based on his shaky hands last week.

by Paul (not verified) :: Sun, 01/27/2008 - 6:56pm

Wow. I thought the ability of the Giants front four to pressure Farve with no blitzing was the deciding factor in the game. I guess I just don't know anemic when I see it.

by Herm? (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 1:50pm

I know Badger might have something to say about his team's guards making the NYG pass rush look great...but regardless of the ability of the competition, that pass rush is anything but anemic.
I am very interested in one variable this game has to offer over the last one...Kyle Brady is playing this game. He'd been hurt a lot through the mid to late season, I'm not sure people realize he turned into a vehemouth #3 offensive tackle with a TE's number on his shirt.
Can anyone think of any other variables? I'm also guessing the Giants' secondary will be a bit more healthy...

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 5:02pm

"Can anyone think of any other variables?"

In addition to Brady, you've got Neal and Kazcur back. Hochstein -> Neal is a HUGE upgrade.

by Mitch (not verified) :: Wed, 01/30/2008 - 4:17pm

WOW! I am technically still in the running! It is amazing just like the Giants run!

It is not over, till it's over!

Go Bradshaw!


by george (not verified) :: Thu, 02/07/2008 - 7:55pm

In the first panel of Gil Thorp's "A Giant Waste of Time", Tyree isn't holding the football akwardly. He just hasn't pulled it down to his helmet yet.
Deja vu all over again.