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Tag:Kevin Gilbride
Posted on: February 6, 2012 12:12 am
Edited on: February 6, 2012 12:15 am
 

Sorting the SB Pile: New York wideouts are giant

Posted by Will Brinson

Manningham's toe-tapping changed the momentum of the game. (AP)

Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action and, um, sorts through it for you. The big story, winners and losers and sometimes fancy moving pictures. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter.

The Turning Point

INDIANAPOLIS -- The NFL might be a quarterbacks league, but if you don't think the guys catching the passes are the most important players on an NFL roster these days, you need to re-think your approach to what constitutes a truly dangerous team. Look no further than Mario Manningham, who's insanely difficult catch on the first play of the Giants final drive sparked New York to its second Super Bowl victory in five years.

"That was the turning point," fellow wideout Hakeem Nicks said about Manningham's catch. "Mario comes up in clutch situations time in and time out throughout these playoffs and that was just another time of him showcasing that."

Manningham, who had a down regular season but made huge catches in recent games, simply "wasn't going to let the ball go."

"I knew I had to freeze my feet when the ball touched my fingertips," Manningham said. "Wherever I was at when the ball hit my fingertips, I just froze my feet and fell. I knew I was either going to get hit or hit the ground. I knew something was going to happen but that I couldn't let that ball go."

He didn't and the Giants were able to march 88 yards the field to score. What makes it particularly impressive is that the Patriots forced Manningham and Nicks to step up by blanketing the salsa-dancing Victor Cruz after his touchdown catch in the first quarter.

That's why Manning, even though was facing a Cover-2 look from the Pats secondary and didn't have a good window to work the ball in. But he trusted Manningham, found a look, stepped up and made a big-boy throw in the biggest moment on the biggest possible stage.

"Usually that is not your best match-up," Manning said afterward. "I looked that way. I saw I had the safety cheated in a little bit and threw it down the sideline. Great catch by [Manningham], keeping both feet in. That's a huge play in the game right there, when you're backed up, to get a 40-yard gain and get to the middle of field."

This isn't to say that Manning wouldn't be great without his wideouts. He would. He's a great quarterback and he played like it, particularly on that final drive and the start of the game, when Manning kicked things off by going 10 for 10.

"We notice," Nicks said of the quarterback's start. "We notice everything. We notice when he's clicking. We know when we have to step up and get the job done. Our hard work that we put in through the week and in practice and in film room just paid off."

Manningham's catch was ridiculous; but more than anything it's a microcosm of how much these wideouts meant to the Giants during their run.

Cruz carried New York at times during the regular season. Manningham scored a touchdown in the first three playoff games. How about Nicks? He only finished the season with 28 catches, 444 receiving yards and four touchdowns ... in the playoffs. The catches

Nicks was nearly unstoppable on Sunday in Indy, making big catch after big catch in traffic, going up for slightly overthrown balls and reeling them in, including a pair of critical grabs on the final drive.

"You just address [the fourth quarter] like any other time," Nicks said. "We knew what we were capable of doing. We knew we could come through in clutch situations."

That's what they did, and it should look familiar. It's the same formula that the Packers used last year when they toppled the Steelers. Nicks and Cruz are actually better than Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. And Jordy Nelson had a superior year in 2011 to Manningham, but his 2010 season (45 catches, 582 yards), followed by a postseason full of big catches is eerily reminiscent of the year Manningham (39 catches, 523 yards) just had.

"I think we as an offense have been very, very successful," offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said afterwards. "Certainly the trigger-man's got to do his job. I think collectively the receivers have really stepped up, made some tremendous plays. Mario did it tonight, but it's been either Victor or Hakeem. Somebody as made some big plays, so as a group, they expect to do well. They expect to put it in the end zone."

Take it back two more years and look at the defending champions -- the Steelers and the Saints -- and you have talented wide receiving corps making catches on a huge stage.

The Patriots, like the Steelers before them, didn't have enough bodies to cover the weapons offered by their opponent. They decided to shut down the Giants top option -- Cruz -- and got torched by Nicks and Manningham.

It's the definition of sound roster-building. Given all the hype surrounding the Pats tight ends in 2011, it's particularly ironic that the Giants receivers were the key to beating the Patriots. Or maybe it's just proper NFL evolution.

Winners

Eli Manning: He has two Super Bowls and these are not backdoor-luck wins either. The 2007 victory might've been defensively-based, but the win doesn't happen if Eli doesn't make some monster plays. On Sunday, he truly propelled himself into a rare class of quarterback; with less than four minutes to go and 88 yards to move the ball, Eli, quite simply, got it done. The receivers helped, of course, but he made huge plays.

Tom Coughlin
: Homeboy is 5-1 in his career against Belichick and has two Super Bowl wins in the last five years. Eight weeks ago? He was on the freaking hot seat. Now he's probably headed to the Hall of Fame if he can coach another three to four strong years in New York. If he wants, he can coach there forever, regardless of what ignorant and impatient fans say amid losing streaks. Two Super Bowls is the equivalent of a lifetime contract in the NFL.

Mario Manningham
: Manningham didn't make every single catch, and he wasn't as good as Hakeem Nicks on Sunday night, but he had five catches for 73 yards and none were more important than a toe-tapping 38-yard catch along the Patriots sideline late in the fourth quarter. With 3:46 left on the clock and down two points, the Giants took a shot, Manning made a big-boy throw and Manningham made an absolutely insane catch along the sidelines. Not only did it totally flip momentum and give the Giants better field position, but it forced Bill Belichick to burn a timeout to challenge the play.

NFL Honors: Awards shows are ticking timebombs stuffed with potential disaster. Which is what makes it so impressive that the NFL pulled of a polished, professional, tidy and entertaining one-hour special that managed to dole out all the big end-of-year awards in impressive fashion. The only question is: what took so long?

Indianapolis: The city of Indy isn't supposed to be a great location for a Super Bowl, but the town gets an A+ from us for their effort in Super Bowl 46. Things were a little rowdy and crowded downtown over the weekend and I could've dealt with a few less bag checks, but it's hard to give Indy other than a gargantuan round of applause for the way they set up and ran the Super Bowl. Everyone was courteous, the weather was wonderful, people running hotels and restaurants adapted to surging crowds. (Even the people in Indy got quotes to the press box faster than Dallas did.) Sunday night's game -- and absolutely thriller -- was the perfect cap to a well-run weekend.

It's a crippling Super Bowl loss for Belichick and Brady. (AP)

Losers

Tom Brady: There's not much difference between 4-1 and 3-2. It's just one game. But if Brady was 4-1 in Super Bowls, we'd be talking about him as the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. Instead, some people will label Brady as "the guy who couldn't beat Eli on the big stage." Travel back in time to January of 2008 and inform someone of that information. They'll laugh at you and double down on their monster bet on the Patriots the first time these teams met up. Brady's an all-time gamer, for sure. No one can take away three Super Bowls. But it's going to be hard to win an argument where you claim he's the GOAT.

Ahmad Bradshaw: The first loser to ever score a game-winning touchdown, Bradshaw scored what might be the weirdest TD in NFL history. (See: below.) He took the handoff, started doing what he's done thousands of times in his life and ran up the middle. Only he wasn't supposed to score. He did anyway, falling into the end zone and giving Brady nearly a minute left on the clock to attempt a comeback. It would be awkward to be him if Brady had completed the Hail Mary.

Bill Belichick: Maybe it was just karma for cutting Tiquan Underwood?

Madonna: When Mrs. Brinson is texting me to tell me how boring the Super Bowl halftime show was, that's not a good thing. And look, Madonna was big time and I know a lot of people enjoyed the show, but she lip-synched most of it, played one song that no one really likes, and another that no one knows. You're not here pimping your new album. Play the stuff people want. All that was missing from that fiasco was a painting of Alex Rodriguez as a centaur.

Peyton Manning: Peyton's not a huge loser, because he gets to celebrate his brother winning a second Super Bowl. That's cool stuff. I'd be pumped if my brother won a second Super Bowl. Actually, I take that back. If I was an NFL quarterback and my brother was an NFL quarterback and he had one more Super Bowl than me, I'd be furious, and probably a little bitter. And if it so happened that I was dealing with a neck injury, I'd probably be pretty motivated to catch him.

GIF O' THE WEEK


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Posted on: January 12, 2012 6:32 pm
Edited on: January 13, 2012 8:43 am
 

Film Room: Packers vs. Giants divisional preview


Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

We can only hope this game is as entertaining as the December 4th shootout, which Green Bay won on a brilliant last minute field goal drive.

Since that day the Packers have looked mortal and the Giants have grown white hot. Can Round II produce a different outcome? Here’s the breakdown.


1. Slowing the Pack’s aerial attack
The Giants used a diverse array of coverages against the Packers in the last meeting and actually had Aaron Rodgers a bit out of sorts early on. Still, even though he wasn’t as sharp as usual, Rodgers threw for 369 yards and four scores (not a bad “off day”).

New York’s two-deep safety zone looks gave Green Bay the most trouble, but the only way a defense can get away with playing zone against this offense a second time is if it sprinkles those zones with disguises and man concepts.

You can’t outsmart the Packers; you can only hope to out-execute them. Generally, that means winning press-man battles on the outside. That’s what Kansas City was able to do, though they have better press corners than New York and didn’t have to deal with Greg Jennings (out at the time with a knee).

The Packers do a great job creating one-on-one matchups for Greg Jennings through play design. In example A (left), Jennings ran his route against rookie Prince Amukamara to the outside, while Donald Drive ran down the seam. This combination eliminated the possibility of free safety Antrel Rolle helping the overmatched Amukamara, who was flagged for pass interference. In example B (right), Jennings aligned in the slot, away from the tight end and running back. Because Jennings was running an outside route from this alignment, there was no way a safety or linebacker could help cornerback Aaron Ross on this play.

Interesting side note: the Packers usually create one-on-one matchups for Jennings by lining him up as the X-receiver in a 1 x 3 set (in other words, Jennings all alone on the left side, three receivers on the right side). However, they did not throw a single pass to Jennings from this formation against the Giants in Week 13.


Without Jennings, a good secondary has a shot at stymieing this receiving corps (for not only are a Jennings-less Pack without their No. 1 receiver, but suddenly No. 2 receiver Jordy Nelson must face a No. 1 corner, No. 3 receiver Donald Driver must face a No. 2 corner and so on). With Jennings, a good secondary still isn’t enough; a defense needs help from up front.

Pressuring Rodgers is difficult with his speed. (Getty Images)

2. Pressuring Rodgers
It’s easy to say New York’s key is having its four-man pass-rush get to Rodgers. But that only matters if the pass-rush pressure equates to sacks.

In the last meeting, Jason Pierre-Paul absolutely owned backup left tackle Marshall Newhouse. Rodgers was under duress all afternoon. But all that meant was he ran around more before completing his throws. Rodgers is so athletic, so strong-armed and so good at keeping his eyes downfield that pass-rush pressure does not disrupt his rhythm, it merely alters it.

The Giants dominated the line of scrimmage last game and finished with just two sacks. Unless they get six or seven sacks (unlikely, especially with Green Bay getting Chad Clifton back), their pass-rush won’t be a difference-making factor.

3. Matching up to Finley
The Giants have shown a perplexing willingness to defend elite tight ends with linebacker Jacquian Williams this season. Against the Saints in Week 12, Williams at times defended Jimmy Graham while safety Antrel Rolle defended Darren Sproles.

The next week, Williams guarded Jermichael Finley while Rolle guarded ... James Starks. (Seriously?!) Finley wound up beating Williams’ in man coverage for 24 yards on the game-winning field goal drive and finished the day with six catches for 87 yards and a touchdown. (The damage would have been worse if he hadn’t dropped three balls.)

Will the Giants take this approach again, or will they go to their dime defense and treat Finley as a wide receiver (which they’ve also done at times against elite tight ends this season)? Going dime would allow Rolle to defend Finley, though it would also put vulnerable rookie Prince Amukamara on either Donald Driver or Jordy Nelson.

4. Giants offense
As you might surmise, the Packers offense has too many weapons for the Giants to defend. Hence, Eli Manning will be compelled to once again light up the scoreboard. As we’ve explored the past several weeks, Manning is razor sharp against the blitz. The belief here is that an attack-oriented defensive approach will not work against the eighth-year veteran.

But Green Bay isn’t built to play any other way – at least not out of their nickel package. Dom Capers’ scheme is predicated on creating one-on-one matchups for Clay Matthews by blitzing others and using Charles Woodson as a joker. This might yield yards, but it can also create interceptions (the Packers had 31 on the season, which was at least eight more than any other team).

Manning is a virtual lock for 300 yards, but if he can be coaxed into at least two picks, the Pack are a virtual lock to host the NFC Title game.

5. Unless…
The Giants control the game on the ground. This idea seemed absurd a few weeks ago, but lately New York’s front five has gelled and Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs have rediscovered their ability to break tackles running downhill.

The Giants spent a lot of time in base personnel last game, though primarily for passing purposes (they ran the ball just 20 times). They wanted to limit Capers’ nickel blitzes and also throw against Packers backup inside linebackers Rob Francois and D.J. Smith (who were playing for the injured Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk).

With the Packers back to full strength and the Giants’ passing game having significantly improved in three-receiver sets, throwing from base personnel might not be as big a factor this time round. But the ground game might be a bigger factor – especially if the Giants don’t believe the return of defensive lineman Ryan Pickett can suddenly stabilize Green Bay’s wavering run defense.

It will be fascinating to see how Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride calls the game early on.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all the Divisional Round games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 9, 2011 10:54 am
 

Film Room: 49ers vs. Giants preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


The NFC’s top team from the East will travel some 3,000 miles to face the top team from the West in a game that could ultimately decide the No. 2 playoff seed. Here’s a five-point look at this matchup between two overachieving clubs.



1. Old School offenses
If not for HD quality picture and the first-down line, you could fool yourself into thinking the year is 1990 when watching these two offenses line up on Sunday. Both are built around traditional rushing attacks, operating predominantly out of classic 12, 21 or 22 personnel (12 personnel = 1 back, two tight ends; 21 personnel = two backs, one tight end; you can guess what 22 personnel equals).

The difference is that the Niners this season have successfully run the ball, while the Giants have not (San Francisco ranks sixth in the NFL with 137.6 yards rushing per game; New York ranks 29th with 88.8).

Jim Harbaugh has good horses in Frank Gore and the more dynamic but less experienced Kendall Hunter, but it’s not a glistening backfield like those found in Philadelphia, Houston or Oakland. To compensate, Harbaugh has done a masterful job manufacturing rushing yards through formation variations, motion and subtle subterfuge. The Niners show opponents a lot of different looks with their running back and tight end alignments. And with mobile guards like Mike Iupati and, to an extent, Adam Snyder, they can frequently change up their movement-oriented run-blocking techniques. They have the most variegated ground game in the NFL.
 
The Giants would like to mimic this, but Ahmad Bradshaw hasn’t been healthy and Brandon Jacobs hasn’t been impactful. More encumbering has been the shakiness of the offensive line. The center position has been particularly problematic. David Baas has battled injuries and struggled with gap-shooting defensive tackles against Miami two weeks ago; when Baas has been out, Kevin Boothe has looked how you’d expect a career backup tackle to look at center. Most telling is that recently, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride has been almost exclusively aerial in his late-game play-calls.

2. The Quarterbacks
The Giants have managed six wins despite a sputtering ground game. The reason? Eli Manning has played the best football of his career. Herein lays the difference between New York and San Francisco. Both teams have former No. 1 overall drafted quarterbacks, but only one can put the game on its quarterback’s shoulders.

Manning is seeing the field clearer than ever (fortunately for him, New York’s front line struggles have not been in pass protection). His command of the offense and sound decision-making have propagated the eruptions of tight end Jake Ballard and slot receiver Victor Cruz. Ballard is an enhanced version of Kevin Boss; Cruz, with his unique body control and sticky hands, is a more explosive – though less stable – version of Steve Smith.

Something that’s not talked about often enough is Manning’s arm strength. He’s among the small handful of quarterbacks who truly can make all the throws; and he doesn’t need to be on balance or in perfect pocket conditions to do it.

Alex Smith, on the other hand, does need perfect pocket conditions. Smith is not functional with bodies around him. When he does have room, the throw usually has to target his first or second read, as he’s never had the poise to work deep in his progressions. This is one reason the Niners have spent so much time in 12 or 21 or 22 formations. When there are only three receivers running routes, defenses are more inclined to bring an eighth defender in the box, thus allowing for more one-on-one coverage concepts outside. This makes things simpler for the quarterback.

The Giants, on the other hand, are able to split into three, and sometimes four, receiver formations for long stretches and let Manning run the show.

3. Pass-rushes
These are two of the best pure pass-rushing defenses in the NFL. Pure meaning both are willing but not compelled to blitz. When they do blitz, it’s often primarily in an effort to command isolated matchups for rushers on the edge. For these defenses, those matchups will almost always be favorable.
 
For the Giants, Osi Umenyiora augments his incredible speed by being the league’s best snap-count anticipators in obvious passing situations. Opposite him, a healthy Justin Tuck is a versatile, fundamentally sharp force, and a rising Jason Pierre-Paul has willowy power and speed that make him a potentially more explosive version of Tuck. And don’t forget that linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka is a former first-round defensive end who can turn the corner.

You already know all this, though. What you may not know is that San Francisco’s pass-rushers are not too many rungs behind New York’s. Sixth-year pro Ahmad Brooks has finally learned how to apply his startling speed and fluidity on an everydown basis (even against the run, which close observers two years ago would not have predicted).

Rookie Aldon Smith plays with Manny Pacquiao-like hand-quickness to go with natural leverage that punctuates his first-round athleticism. What’s more, most 3-4 defenses don’t bank on getting pressure from their ends. But they don’t have a weapon like Justin Smith. He wears opponents out and makes three or four splash plays a week. Opposite Smith, Ray McDonald, when healthy (he injured his hamstring in Week 8) has been equally dynamic this season.

Both defenses have the versatility to create pass-rushing mismatches through position relocation and group concepts. All of the men mentioned above are outside players who can align inside, stand up as de facto blitzing linebackers or properly set up and execute crashes and stunts with teammates.

4. The Coverage Effect
These difficult-to-block four-man pass-rushes force quarterbacks to throw under duress into seven-man coverages. As they showed at New England last week, the Giants linebackers and safeties are getting more comfortable recognizing and attacking passing lanes. It helps that their cornerbacks, though inconsistent early in the season, can play press-man coverage outside.

Corey Webster has been particularly impressive in recent weeks, often shadowing the opposing team’s top receiver. He’s well equipped to defend the lithe but inexplosive Michael Crabtree.

The Niners love to play two-man out of their nickel defense. This puts cornerbacks Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver man-to-man on the wideouts and allows the two safeties, Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson, to roam free over the top. Rogers, who starts outside but plays the slot in nickel, is having a career-year. Brown blends into the scheme in a good way. Culliver, a precocious third-round rookie, always plays with a great sense for his surroundings.

Even if Hakeem Nicks, discreetly a top-10 NFL receiver, returns from his hamstring injury this week, the Giants are going to have a tough time consistently getting wideouts open against this Niners secondary.

5. The inside linebackers
We saved the best for last: San Francisco’s inside linebackers (and just San Francisco’s – New York’s entire linebacking corps is very mediocre).

Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman form the best inside linebacking duo in football. The past few years, Willis has rightfully been regarded as the best in the business. This season, he may be the second best on his own team, as Bowman, a 2010 third-round pick, leads San Fran in tackles.

Setting these two apart is the fact that they both play all three downs. That’s incredible in this day and age of spread offenses. In nickel and dime defense, Willis and Bowman perform coverage assignments normally reserved for defensive backs. They have the speed, change-of-direction prowess and awareness to do it. Both are quick-closing tacklers, instinctive run-defenders and innate playmakers.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 10 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 12, 2010 1:24 pm
Edited on: November 12, 2010 1:26 pm
 

Giants WR Smith out Sunday with torn pectoral

Posted by Will Brinson

First, the tiny piece of good news for the New York Giants and wide receiver Steve Smith: the partial tear in his pectoral muscle (he suffered in Thursday's practice) will not require surgery and it is not season-ending.

Now the bad: has (obviously) a torn pectoral muscle. He will not play on Sunday when the Giants welcome Dallas to the Meadowlands. And he is considered "week-to-week."

Tom Coughlin declined to attach a timeframe to Smith's injury, but apparently indicated that it would be more than one game. According to our Giants Rapid Reporter Alex Raskin, Coughlin is classifying the injury as "week-to-week."

Yesterday, Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride called Smith's injury a "huge loss," indicating that the injury was more serious than originally believed.

Gilbride is right, of course -- while Hakeem Nicks has been the breakout star in 2010, Smith's presence in the across the field opened up defenses. Additionally, Smith is Eli Manning's go-to receiver in short yardage and on third down, and despite not being the primary end zone target this season, he's still posted better-than-respectable (47 catches for 517 yards) numbers.

"He's always open," Mario Manningham said of Smith, who hasn't missed a game since 2007. "I don't think anybody can cover him."

Gilbride expects to rotate Manningham and Ramses Barden into Smith's spot, depending on what sort of route is called for on an individual play.

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