Most of today will be spent dissecting and talking about the action from Sunday’s games, and we would bet the main focus would be on Brett Favre’s return to Lambeau, his four TD passes and another win over his former team. But what about the NFC East?
Because there’s a story there that’s worth discussing.
The New York Giants started off 5-0, sat atop our power rankings and looked like the most complete team it the NFL, while Philly and the Cowboys were tagged as wild card hopefuls — just trying to hang on through this 2009 season.
But as we reach the midway point of the season, it’s becoming obvious that it’s the Eagles and Cowboys who are getting better and the Giants who have question marks on their jerseys all of a sudden.
Let’s look at why this slide is occurring at the most inopportune time.
1. The loss of safety Kenny Phillips
When Phillips was lost for the season in September, the reaction wasn’t one of panic — because the Giants were viewed as a team that could replace key members of their defense each and every Sunday. But as we’ve seen the last three weeks — all Giants losses — this New York secondary is devoid of playmakers. Think of teams like the Ravens or the Steelers when it comes to playmaking safeties such as Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu. I won’t go so far to say Phillips was that guy for the Giants, but his presence is missed. Quarterbacks, like Donovan McNabb yesterday, are completing big passes because no one in the Giants secondary is challenging receivers.
2. The truth about Steve Smith
I was as guilty as anyone when I wrote that Steve Smith of the Giants had progressed enough since last season to be considered a true No.1 receiver in this league -- and although his production was big against poor secondaries like the Chiefs earlier in the season, it looks like it has hit a plateau. The one thing we can’t ignore is that Smith doesn’t have the ability to separate from defensive backs down the field, and when he’s your No.1 target, the number of big plays will drop dramatically. Maybe we threw too many bouquets his way too early in the season.
3. Eli’s inconsistent play
Throughout this three-game losing streak, Eli Manning has thrown six INTs compared with three TD passes and just looks “off” from my perspective. He isn’t seeing clearly down the field and is forcing more throws than I’ve seen before. But it started with the Saints — a pressure team — continued with an Arizona team that showed multiple looks and continued yesterday with an Eagles team that isn’t afraid to lead with its blitz packages. It’s almost as if defensive secondaries are bringing pressure with the idea that they can play man coverage against the Giants receivers and then challenge Eli to beat them down the field. Something is amiss in Manning’s game right now.
4. Turnover ratio
A sign of any good team is being on the plus side of turnover margin, and right now, the Giants are sitting at plus-1. Sure, this starts with a secondary that only has six interceptions through eight games, but it has to continue with the entire defense because we can’t throw just the secondary under the bus. Former defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s units attacked the football, and I don’t see that happening in New York this year. For a comparison, check out the Eagles, who are plus-12 in turnover margin right now.
5. Comeback ability
I have always felt that the Giants were a team that won games when they started fast, controlled the clock and wore down the opposition in the later stages of the second half. But the problem with that formula was on display in Philly, or three weeks ago in New Orleans. As we have already talked about with the lack of the big play against good competition coming from the wide receiver spot, this Giants team isn’t built to drop back and throw the football up and down the field to get back into a game. They’re at their best when RBs Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs are involved in the game plan and when Manning can play off of their success with the passing game.
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