There's obviously a lot to take out of this game, both good and bad. Are we excited that Eli played like a stud for the second straight game and appears to have conquered his historical second half swoon? Or are we worried sick about our defense, which repeatedly came up small after folding against San Diego the game before? Do we laud the resilience of this squad? Or are we pissed that the concept of resilience even entered the conversation? Are we grateful that Tynes responded to the pressure of having the game, and probably his job, on the line? Or are we upset that our kicker is so bad that his job is perpetually on the line?
Either way, the most important takeaway is that we came away with a win. Tom Coughlin's put it succinctly. "It's nice to win. We were miserable around here for a month."
What's to like: (as always, in no particular order and non-exhaustive)
Eli: I have never seen Eli throw so many beautiful balls. Granted, doing so is easier when your receivers are wide open. But there were a bunch of key plays today on which the receivers weren't wide open a very good throw was needed. (Quick examples: The 33-yard deep ball to Manningham before the Tynes missed field goal; the 51-yard deep ball to Smith; the 31-yard deep ball to Manningham before our last touchdown; Eli's pass deeper on that same drive where he lofted it over a linebacker to get it to Boss, who took it down to the 3 yard-line; the back-shoulder fade to Manningham on the OT drive.)
That's two great games in a row for Eli. Against the Chargers, he posted a 112.6 rating. This week, his rating was 111.5. He went 25-for-39 for 384 yards, 3 TDs, and 1 interception. Not only has he restored confidence in his overall play after two stinkers against Arizona and Philly, he also rediscovered his late-game mojo. Among all the other awesome things he did out there today, Eli led us on a game-winning drive that, based on how the defense was playing, was pretty much do-or-die. So including the Dallas and Arizona games, that's 2-for-3 on leading us down the field in crunch time. I'll take that.
The Star-Ledger's Mike Garafolo made a really good point about Eli in his game breakdown. He wrote, "He's a streaky player and those streaks always seem to last a few weeks -- good and bad. He's never been one to be up and down from week to week but rather weeks to weeks."
A few of nitpicky points about Eli's performance:
1) The interception on the first drive was vintage Bad Eli. I can't think of a quarterback for whom it's so obvious that bad results are forthcoming by the way he releases the ball. When you're watching the game on TV -- self-inflicted stomach woes kept me from Giants Stadium this week, shamefully -- you usually can't see downfield where the quarterback is throwing. But whenever you see Eli drift away from the pressure and then blindly wing the ball downfield off his back foot, there's about a 75 percent chance that there are more defenders in the area than receivers. (For the record, Eli stepped into his throw on Tyree's Super Bowl catch, which means it wasn't dumb luck after all....)
2) There are times when Eli is in the pocket with defenders converging on him where I wish he would employ a shorter, more compact throwing motion. To a certain degree, a guy's throwing motion is a guy's throwing motion. But can't Eli shorten it up a little bit if he knows guys are crashing down on him?
3) I did not like how Eli looked when we took possession after the Falcons tied the game with 28 seconds left. If Chris Houston hadn't been in the midst of the worst performance by a cornerback against the Giants since Al Harris in the 2007 NFC Championship game (mitigating factor for Harris: It was Plax that abused him), he might have had a shot at an interception on the 1st down play. The 2nd down play was a little too close for comfort as well.
Kevin Gilbride: Devised a game plan that fully exploited the Falcons horrendous pass defense. However.... Even though we converted big plays on many 3rd and short situations, I still don't like how that has become such a staple of our offense. On Sunday, Eli was hitting all those deep passes. That's not always going to be the case.
Mario Manningham, Steve Smith, and Hakeem Nicks: Manningham gets the game-ball with 6 receptions for 126 yards. Included among these were the game-clinching back-shoulder fade and another back-shoulder fade earlier in the game. It would be great if Eli and Manningham could develop a rapport on that play.
Smith (4 for 79) and Nicks (5 for 65) were very good as well. One complaint about Nicks though: As Sue Simmons would say, what the fuck was he thinking on that second overtime catch? He was holding the ball -- and our season -- in a very precarious way.
Kevin Boss: Boss is what he is: He's not in the class of Brent Celek, Jason Whitten, or -- gasp -- Tony Gonzalez. But he's a reliable target whose subpar speed is largely offset by his crafty body positioning, admirable toughness, and velvety hands. Boss had 76 yards on 5 catches, two of which were touchdowns. Credit for this also belongs to the coaching staff for making more of an effort to use Boss in the red zone (or as the coaching staff calls it, the green zone. Power of positive thinking on that one!). "We have had the idea that this would be one way to help ourselves in the green zone. It proved true today," said Coughlin in vintage Coughlinspeak.
Madison Hedgecock: For catching the ball. Who knew? Maybe he's wearing contacts now like a less obvious Rick Vaughn. Kudos for him for picking out a pair that's more him.
The pass protection: Eli was sacked once and hit twice. The Falcons looked like they were bringing their fair share of blitz packages too. Overall, a nice bounceback performance after two bad games in a row.
Corey Webster: Another bounceback, another good sign going forward. Coming off two straight bad games -- it least it looked like that to the layman -- Webster rebounded in a big way. He was locked in single coverage all game with Roddy White, one of the game's better number one wideouts. White was targeted 12 times, but made only four catches, and Webster was credited with five passes defensed. Awesome stuff. He was actually in position to intercept a pass (on the far sideline on TV) before White egregiously held his arm. This uncalled pass interference was one of a few bad calls that went against the Giants (the Cofield and Rouse personal fouls were bad too.)
The pass rush: This was a call for me, because for the second straight game they were nowhere to be found on the opposition's last drive. They registered 2 sacks and 8 hits on the quarterback, however, including a forced fumble, so they fall in this section. We'll get to Sheridan in the next section, but I first I have to stress that it seemed like a high percentage of his blitzes seemed to be getting there this week. In previous games, it always seemed like our blitzes were telegraphed and easily figured out. I don't know, it just seemed that way to me. So before we rip into Sheridan, that's something to keep in mind.
Feagles: It wasn't a noteworthy game, but it wasn't noteworthy in a bad way, and that's a step in the right direction for him and a relief for us.
Danny Ware: There are two reasons Ware goes in the "What's to like" column: 1) The 11-yard run he salvaged from a botched snap just before the end of the half; and 2) He looks like our best back right now. We will overlook that he didn't get the first down on that pitch to the short-side on 3rd and 4 (straight out of the Derrick Ward playbook) and that he didn't leak out of the backfield for an outlet pass on third down of the drive on which Tynes missed the 31-yard field goal.
Osi and Tuck: I wasn't as sold on this pair as Darryl Johnston, who was jocking them all game. But it did look like they were applying pressure pretty consistently for most of the game, the last drive notwithstanding. Tuck's injuries are a concern though. The guy is always getting nicked up in every conceivable place, and I'm not sure that's ever going to change.
What's not to like:
The defense: Obviously. But please indulge me as I offer a contrarian take:
There are two takes on the defense's performance:
1) Allowing the Falcons to basically go 9-for-10* on 3rd downs in the second half, coupled with the choking against the Chargers the week before, tells you that our defense can't come through in a big spot. (*I say basically because they Falcons picked up 11 yards on a 3rd and 12, which was not an unsuccessful play and therefore shouldn't be held against them.)
Or 2) The Falcons' performance on third down was a total fluke. If not for that fluke -- if Matty Ice grounds one pass, if one receiver slips coming out of his break, etc. -- our opinion of the defense would be completely different.
Coming into this game, we've actually been much better on 3rd down than 2nd or first, according to Football Outsiders advanced DVOA statistic, which adjusts for situation. (For instance, letting up a conversion on 3rd and 1 doesn't count as much against you as allowing one on 3rd and 14). Before the game, we ranked 4th in DVOA on 3rd down, 11th on 2nd down, and 20th on 1st down. But during the second half on Sunday, we allowed 3rd down conversions of 13, 10, 10 (on a penalty), and 10 yards. The only 3rd down conversion we prevented was on 3rd and 7. Allowing conversions on 4 out of 5 of these 3rd-and-longs is extremely rare. And judging by our numbers coming into this game, obviously isn't an inherent weakness to this team. To boot, the fact that we even got them in so many 3rd-and-longs shows that our defense outplayed them on a play-be-play basis during the second half. Yes, we kept on allowing difficult plays tat extended drives. But that wasn't the case before this game, and it's not likely to be the case after.
Bill Sheridan: All that statistical analysis doesn't explain away the last drive, during which the Falcons only converted on two 3rd downs of 4 and 3 yards. So whatever can be said about the previous drives in the second half -- that we actually outplayed them -- can't be said about the last drive. That makes two straight huge drives that our defense has folded when we needed them to step up. And that's on Sheridan.
The running game: Granted, the game-plan was predicated on the pass, but averaging 3.4 yards per carry against a mediocre rush defense lands you in this column. Another week has gone by in which the Giants didn't dominate up front. Those days seem like a distant memory, and maybe we should give up hope that they will ever return. Our reduced expectations for the pass rush and running game go a long way towards explaining why we're not an elite team right now.
Bradshaw: He's just getting way too cute. In the past, his shifty, herky-jerky running style was refreshing, and the moves he made were a sign of confidence. Now he looks unsure of himself. In my column two weeks ago, I diagnosed him with "Sinorice Moss Syndrome," a condition defined by getting frustrated with a mounting lack production and consequently always trying to make the perfect play rather than settling for the good play.
My podcast partner Dan is convinced Bradshaw's ineffectiveness stems from his ankle and foot injuries. But I'm not so sure. I haven't noticed any lack of explosiveness in Bradshaw, just a lot of bad decisions. Dan pointed out that maybe his injury isn't affecting his running directly, but having an indirect effect because of his lack of practice reps. It's a good point. Plaxico Burress notwithstanding, these guys practice for a reason.
Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard: They're getting paid a lot of money and haven't done anything yet between them (3 tackles between them yesterday). I'm calling them out.
Tynes: 1) He missed a 31-yard field goal, which is the third chip-shot he has missed this year; and 2) His weak kickoffs allowed the Falcons an average starting field positions after kickoffs of the 32.2 yard-line. I'm not positive where I read this*, but I think I once remember seeing that the average starting field position for an NFL team was around the 27.5 yard line. (*Honestly, I searched far and wide on the internet. If you see something, say something. Why was this stat so hard to find?) So if you take that 4.7 yards difference and multiply it by 5, you can say that Tynes cost us 23.5 yards on Sunday. That really isn't okay, but I'm not sure there's anything we can do about it.