Here's the good news: We didn't kill our playoff hopes last night. A win against Dallas at home next week would put us a half-game behind Dallas because of tie-breakers. If we follow that with a win against Philly at home, we're in as good shape as those teams heading into the final three games. Obviously we'd be in better shape if we'd have beaten Denver, but the loss in itself doesn't torpedo our playoff hopes.
Here's the bad news: After last night, you'd have to be deluded to think we can put together that strong stretch of football - say, winning four of the last five -- necessary to make the playoffs. To rehash what everyone knows, we've lost five of our last six games and have been blown out in three of them (New Orleans, Philadelphia, Denver). We have won only two of our seven games against teams with a .500 record or better. One of those wins came in overtime (Atlanta) and one came in a game in which we were thoroughly outplayed (Dallas). This means that when we play a decent team, we're three times as likely to get destroyed than to win. What are the chances that we manage four wins against a slate that includes three games against teams over .500 (Dallas, Philadelphia, and Minnesota) and two against teams that are at least competitive (Washington, Carolina)? Realistically, it seems much more likely that we finish 8-8 or worse than that we make the playoffs. We aren't a 6-5 team poised to make a playoff run. On the contrary, we are a 6-5 team rapidly freefalling from the ranks of the good teams.
What's to like:
Tynes and Feagles: The altitude no doubt helped them. Tynes hit a 39-yarder and a 52-yarder, the second of which actually seemed clutch at the time because it pulled us within 10 points with 5 minutes remaining in the third quarter. Feagles averaged 50.2 yards per punt and pinned three punts inside the 20.
Terrell Thomas: Made that third quarter interception that provided a glimmer of hope. Also made some nice stops, including sniffing out a bubble screen to Marshall on a second quarter third down play that kept Denver to a field goal that made it 16-0.
What's not to like:
Everything else: Split the season in two "halves": The 5-0 start, and the 1-5 stretch over the past six games. If you look at the past six games, all facets of our team with the exception of the passing offense have to be considered weaknesses.
The pass defense played horrifically against the Saints and Eagles, very poorly last night against the Broncos, and choked at the end of the Chargers and Falcons games. The run defense hasn't been quite as bad but is a weakness nonetheless. It was obviously terrible last night against Denver and was also terrible against Philadelphia and Dallas. The running game was a non-factor in the blowouts to New Orleans and Philadelphia through no fault of its own, but was subpar against San Diego, bad against Atlanta, and bad last night against Denver. The passing game hasn't been good, exactly, but we'll give it the benefit of the doubt because of Eli's two great games against San Diego and Atlanta.
This is what's so discouraging about this team: In the past six games we've been mediocre or worse nearly across the board, which affords very little hope that things will turn around. There are simply too many things we need to turn around.
Bill Sheridan: It's very un-Giants-like to fire a guy after one year, because we're a franchise that values stability. And that's a good thing. Stability is more than a moral value befitting Wellington Mara's patience and old-fashioned decency; it has a practical value as well. Players are drafted and developed to fit a certain system, so changing your system by firing a coach depreciates the value of your personnel.
When the Giants chose Bill Sheridan to replace Steve Spagnuolo, it seemed like the logical choice aimed at keeping a good thing going. But under Sheridan, a good thing has become a very bad thing. The injuries are a mitigating factor, of course. But it seems like every single injury has begat a worst-case scenario: Phillips and Ross's injuries have contributed to our pass defense being awful. The offseason surgeries of Robbins and Cofield, along with Canty's nagging injury earlier this year, have greatly weakened our run defense. Tuck's aches and pains and Osi's ineffectiveness coming off knee surgery have rendered our once fearsome pass rush average. Boley's injury, coupled with weak safety play, has led to huge problems covering tight ends and the deep middle. If one of these scenarios resulted from these injuries, that would be excusable. But the fact that all of them did makes you seriously question the coaching. If the defense continues to play poorly over the final five games, the Giants should depart from their usual patient approach and fire Sheridan.
The run-defense: Gashed on the ground again. The defensive linemen got blown off the ball and missed tackles. The linebackers couldn't get off blocks and consistently allowed the Broncos to get to the edge. I'll say this in their defense though: Knowshon Moreno is a player.
The pass defense: I know that Kyle Orton is not bad anymore. And I know that with Brandon Marshall and Tony Scheffler, the Broncos have some legit weapons. But for Orton go 18-for-28 for 245 yards? They're not that good. Also, the pass rush had one sack and one other hit on Orton. That will not get it done.
Eli: It was clear on the first drive that Eli was off his game. First, he missed a wide-open Smith on 2nd and 7. On the next play, the Giants picked up a Denver blitz, but Eli didn't realize that and prematurely settled for a futile underneath pass to Hixon. That was the beginning of a rough first half for Eli and the Giants offense, during which they picked up a mere three first downs and were outgained 213 to 38. Eli started hitting some throws in the second half, but it was too late.
The pass protection: Three sacks and six hits on Eli, including another blindside fumble. In their defense, it's harder to protect the quarterback when you're being forced to throw because you're behind.
Jacobs: I'm sorry, but the guy is just too slow to hit too many holes. Maybe he was quicker last year and the year before, or maybe the holes were just big enough to mask his lack of short-range speed. Either way, he is a liability right now. On plays where there is nothing, he gets nothing. On plays where there is something, he gets the bare minimum. The difference between Jacobs last year and Jacobs this year is the difference between Ron Dayne at Wisconsin and Ron Dayne on the Giants. When there are massive holes, both can accumulate a full head of steam and rip off massive chunks of yardage beyond the first level. In the absence of massive holes, they're too ponderous to get past the first level and are unable to gather speed or power.
Also, the running plays we're calling - lots of stuff to the edges - are particularly ill-suited to Jacobs's skill-set. We knew that Jacobs's effectiveness would come to an abrupt end. That end has come sooner than expected.
DJ Ware: Going into the game, Ware seemed like the last, best hope for the Giants diminished running game. Then he fumbled to set up a Broncos touchdown. And then he sustained a concussion. Who knows what his status is for next game. Maybe he should go back to being Danny.
The run-blocking: The biggest mystery of the year. What in the world happened? Is it age? I really don't think so, but maybe it is. O'Hara is the oldest of the group at 32, Seubert and McKenzie are 30, Diehl is 29, and Snee is 27. I suppose they're slightly on the old side collectively, but age doesn't explain how they can go from excellent to ineffective in one year. I don't get it.
Effort by Manningham and Nicks on the final two drives: On the second-to-last drive, well after the game's outcome was decided, Eli threw a post pass over the middle to Manningham that might have resulted in Manningham absorbing a blow. Manningham decided to protect his body rather than go for the ball, and the pass fell incomplete. On the next play, Eli threw a slant pass to Nicks. A good effort might have resulted in a catch by Nicks. At the very least, Nicks should have put himself in position to get a hand on the ball. But he didn't, and Denver's Andre' Goodman intercepted the pass. On the Giants next series, Eli threw a decent pass in the endzone that Manningham was in position to catch. But he once again gave a poor effort at the "moment of truth" and didn't get his hands on the ball. These guys are being counted on as the Giants' next generation of key players. What you saw in the last few minutes of last night's game (if you were still watching) does not bode well for this team's future.